WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Monday to Egyptian President Fattah al Sisi, a day after a similar call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

US media reported that the calls were part of the new president’s consultations for a proposed shifting of the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The White House, which confirmed the two calls, did not give a readout.

The calls were Mr Trump’s first to foreign leaders as president, as the new administration considers the pros and cons of moving the embassy to the city disputed between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The media noted that while the change would please several American Jewish groups, it would have a negative reaction among the country’s Arab allies.

Egypt is one of just two Arab countries that have signed a peace treaty with Israel and the Trump administration believes that Cairo’s support could be very useful in persuading others not to oppose the proposed move.

A US law, passed in 1995, suggests shifting the embassy to Jersusalem but leaves it to the president to determine when is the right time to do so. The president, however, has to send a certificate to the Congress twice a year that the proposed move does not serve US interests. The next certification is due in May.

The US media noted that Mr Trump had cordial relations with Mr Sisi who praised him after he was elected in November. The Egyptian president also expressed hope that Mr Trump would mend ties with Arab states that frayed under former president Barack Obama.

The White House said President Trump was also expected to sign a host of executive orders on Monday and Tuesday, including one that would give more powers to the US military to combat the militant Islamic State group (IS).

Another order will authorise the administration to start building a wall on the US border with Mexico, a major election promise that helped Mr Trump win much support from rural America where anti-immigration sentiments are high.

The media reported that President Trump would also make full use of his executive authority to halt work on former president Obama’s health and trade policies.

On Friday, Mr Trump signed an order to minimise the financial support to Mr Obama’s healthcare policy — known as Obamacare — that the former president wanted to continue as his legacy. But more action is needed to undo the law.

The new president is also expected to sign orders to start undoing foreign trade agreements initiated by the Obama administration, slapping a lobbying ban and prohibiting non-governmental organisations from receiving foreign aid if they perform abortions.

Another order would authorise his administration to begin a 90-day review of alleged Russian hacking and cyber security vulnerabilities within the government.

The order authorising the joint chiefs of staff panel to expedite the fight against the IS would endorse a plan the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US defence department, prepared this month for the new administration. The Pentagon said the plan included suggestions for speeding up the fight without using huge numbers of US troops on the ground. There are about 6,000 US troops in Iraq and 500 special operations personnel in Syria, fighting IS extremists.

Published in Dawn January 24th, 2017

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