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Trump keeps US guessing as candidates line up

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Donald Trump met a Democratic critic of US Syrian policy, a forgetful former Texas governor and a raft of media executives Monday as he built a team to implement his vision for America.

[WASHINGTON] Donald Trump met a Democratic critic of US Syrian policy, a forgetful former Texas governor and a raft of media executives Monday as he built a team to implement his vision for America.

The US president-elect's motley crew of advisors were gathered at his Trump Tower offices in New York, and talk was of retired general James "Mad Dog" Mattis being nominated as secretary of defence.

Mr Trump's camp said no nomination announcements were imminent, but a stream of would-be appointees made the pilgrimage through the gilded elevator doors to the Republican's elevated sanctum.

"It could come this week. It could come today but we're not in a rush to publish names just because everybody is looking for the next story," campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said.

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Reporters had hoped for confirmation that Mr Mattis, at least, would be confirmed as a nominee.

Despite the 66-year-old Marine's renowned frankness - "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet" - he enjoys warm support in Washington and should sail through confirmation.

After Mr Mattis, Mr Trump's other choices may prove more complicated, such as that for secretary of state, reportedly between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Both met Mr Trump over the weekend at the Trump International Golf Club in New Jersey, but there was no steer as to which - if either - has the inside track to become Washington's top diplomat.

Another possible pick for a foreign policy post is Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat but - like Mr Trump - an opponent of moves to drive Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad from office.

Ms Gabbard backed defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders in their party primary, and met Mr Trump amid reports she could become US ambassador to the United Nations.

Afterwards, she said she wanted a chance to speak to Mr Trump before "the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government."

There was no immediate word on whether she had sought or been offered a post in the administration.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, whom Mr Trump defeated in the Republican primary and who famously fumbled a 2011 debate when he forgot the name of the Department of Energy, also visited.

He did not speak to reporters after the talks, but he has been variously rumoured as a candidate for defence, agriculture or... energy.

After meeting potential hires, Mr Trump hosted private talks with news anchors and top executives from the six top TV networks and cable news providers.

Ms Conway denied that Mr Trump was mending fences after having criticised coverage of his campaign, but added that from her point of view "it's great to hit the reset button."

Mr Trump has been no slower than his predecessors to name a cabinet. President Barack Obama, after his 2008 victory, waited until December before naming foreign policy and national security officials.

But the 70-year-old property tycoon is a Washington outsider who vowed to shake up the ruling elite, so some of his choices may find it hard to get past the Senate - or to obtain a security clearance.

Time may thus become a factor as the United States counts down to the January 20 transfer of power.

Mr Trump's pick for National Security Adviser, former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency Mike Flynn, enjoyed high-level clearance until Mr Obama forced the general's early retirement in 2014.

But he has since accepted hospitality from Russia's President Vladimir Putin and taken lobbying work from a firm reportedly close to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, so he may face new questions.

The National Security Advisor role does not need Senate approval but Mr Flynn will need to pass an FBI background check to restore his security clearance.

As a serving senator, Mr Trump's choice to lead the CIA, Mike Pompeo, might expect an easy ride at the hands of his former colleagues, tasked with vetting his suitability for the sensitive post.

But he has argued that US spy agencies need unrestricted powers to collect data online from both US citizens and foreigners and has defended the CIA's former use of torture on detainees.

Republican Senator John McCain opposes torture and his colleague Rand Paul is concerned about mass surveillance, so he may face tough questions.

Mr Trump's pick for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, ought not to face stiff resistance from his Republican colleagues, but his record on race and civil rights has stirred a political storm.

Ms Conway dismissed allegations that Mr Sessions is a racist, pointing to his record as a prosecutor in Alabama and 20-year term as a senator.

But she would not be drawn on whether Mr Giuliani or Mr Romney will be secretary of state: "They both have been very distinguished public servants."

Mr Giuliani is Mr Trump's most loyal champion, the first on air to defend him after footage emerged of the tycoon boasting that he groped women with impunity.

In contrast, Mr Romney was Mr Trump's most outspoken Republican critic during the race, branding him a "phony" and a "conman" who would destroy his party and bring shame on his country.

Late on Tuesday or early on Wednesday, Mr Trump is to fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to take a "brief" Thanksgiving holiday break with his family.

AFP

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