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22 Jan, 2009 02:46

White house staff should tighten belts - Obama

New American President Barack Obama has wasted no time getting down to business. One of his first acts has been to announce a pay freeze for White House senior staff.

He said that while ordinary families across the U.S. have been tightening their belts, the White House should do so as well.

The measure will freeze salaries at their current levels for about 100 White House employees who earn over U.S $ 100,000 a year. These include the White House chief of staff, press secretary and national security adviser.

Obama also announced new rules for political lobbying in Washington, promising to make the political system more transparent.

The new American president has called four Middle East leaders – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, expressing ``his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term.''

Talking to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, President Obama promised to work hard towards a durable peace in the Middle East.

And fulfilling his campaign promise, Obama ordered an immediate halt to the prosecution of detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison, opened after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 by the Bush's administration.

A draft executive order on Guantanamo, circulating in the new administration, would declare a halt for all trials under way and closure of the facility within a year.

The draft says that it "would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.''

Obama had been expected to discuss issues related to Iraq and Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top commanders on Wednesday.

Earlier Obama promised a 16-month deadline for withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

Also on the agenda, there was a plan to significantly increase American troops in Afghanistan as the Taliban is resurgent there.

Currently, the U.S has about 33-thousand troops in Afghanistan, but Obama is expected to send up to 30-thousand more this year.

On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton was confirmed as new Secretary of State by the U.S senate with 94 votes for and only 2 against.