Obama to renew the hunt for Osama Bin Laden

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PRESIDENT-elect Barack Obama will renew the hunt for al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan, his national security advisers told US media today.

The 47-year-old Democrat has also pledged to shut down the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, a move Bush administration officials have said will be easier said than done.

Speculation as to how America's first black president will tackle the grave challenges facing the nation is rife as he sets about forming his new administration.

No Cabinet positions are expected to be announced before the end of the week, but some key White House posts could be filled.

Mr Obama plans to intensify the US military and intelligence focus on both al-Qaida and bin Laden after taking office on January 20, Obama advisers told the Washington Post.

While emphasising the importance of continuing US operations against Pakistan-based Taliban fighters who attack US forces in Afghanistan, the incoming administration also intends to remind Americans how the fight against Islamist extremists began with the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.

Referring to bin Laden, one adviser told the newspaper: "This is our enemy, and he should be our principal target."

Mr Obama also said during the campaign that his administration would explore talks with countries such as Iran and Syria.

Advisers said Mr Obama was open to supporting discussions between the Afghan government and "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban.

Yesterday, Mr Obama enjoyed a "constructive, relaxed and friendly" meeting with President George Bush as he visited the White House for the first time since becoming US president-elect.

It was the first time that Mr Obama had set foot inside the Oval Office.

The two leaders, who have both stressed the need for a smooth transition of power in a time of war and global economic crisis, spent two hours together inside the White House, including more than an hour of talks inside the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, Mr Obama's advisers also said they were crafting plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and prosecute terrorism suspects in the US.

Under the plan, some detainees would be released and others would be charged in US courts, where they would receive constitutional rights and open trials.

But, underscoring the difficult decisions Mr Obama must make to fulfil his pledge of shutting down Guantanamo, the plan could require the creation of a new legal system to handle the classified information inherent in some of the most sensitive cases.

Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough said Mr Obama wanted Guantanamo closed, but that no decision had been made "about how and where to try the detainees, and there is no process in place to make that decision until his national security and legal teams are assembled".

Many of the about 250 Guantanamo detainees are cleared for release, but the Bush administration has not able been to find a country willing to take them.

"We've tried very hard to explain to people how complicated it is," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

"When you pick up people off the battlefield that have a terrorist background, it's not just so easy to let them go.

"These issues are complicated, and we have put forward a process that we think would work in order to put them on trial through military tribunals."

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