22 Jan 2009

Obama set to tackle challenging agenda

6:10 am on 22 January 2009

Barack Obama will turn on Wednesday toward his goals of rescuing the United States economy, charting a new course for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and shaping his approach to the Middle East conflict.

Mr Obama took power as the first African-American president of the United States on Tuesday. He is the country's 44th president.

Mr Obama has pledged bold and swift action to deal with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He has also asked Americans for patience in grappling with challenges both foreign and domestic that will take time to resolve.

With financial markets reeling and job losses mounting, Mr Obama will meet with his economic advisers, who are working with the Democratic-led Congress on an $US825 billion fiscal stimulus package.

He also is seeking fresh approaches to repair the battered financial system and is considering a host of ideas, including the creation of a government-run bank that would buy up toxic assets from ailing US banks.

The aim is to rekindle the flow of the credit to the economy so businesses and consumers can get access to loans.

Mr Obama has found a receptive audience on Capitol Hill for his call for aggressive action to help the economy and hopes to garner bipartisan support for the massive stimulus package.

But Republicans have raised questions about the package, including how quickly the money will be spent and whether certain projects will actually kick-start the economy, which has been in a recession for over a year.

Mr Obama is pressing for passage of the package by mid-February.

Foreign policy

Iraq and Afghanistan will dominate Mr Obama's foreign policy agenda, but he has also said he will take an active role to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He may move quickly to name a Middle East envoy and is strongly considering George Mitchell, a former US senator and veteran international troubleshooter, for the job.

Mr Obama will also sit down with top military officials to discuss Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has said he favors a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and U.S. officials said that in his meeting with military leaders, he would discuss the possibility of accelerating their departure.

Mr Obama also will discuss plans to bolster troops in Afghanistan as he meets with a Pentagon delegation led by Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General David Petraeus, the former Iraq commander credited with pulling the country from the brink of civil war, was to attend Wednesday's meeting after flying back from Afghanistan.