Tags: obama | mitchell | mideast

Obama Taps George Mitchell as Mideast Envoy

Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 02:55 PM

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama plans to name former Sen. George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy in one of his first actions as the new U.S. president, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

Mitchell's appointment could come as early as Tuesday, the newspaper said, quoting unidentified Obama aides.

Obama, who will be sworn in as the next U.S. president at noon EST, has promised to engage on the Middle East immediately as president and a choice of Mitchell as special envoy was seen as affirming his commitment to early action.

Mitchell, 75, led a commission appointed by former President Bill Clinton to find ways to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence.

His 2001 report called for Israelis to freeze construction of new settlements and stop shooting at unarmed demonstrators, and called for Palestinians to prevent terrorist attacks and punish those who perpetrate them.

Mitchell is a former Senate majority leader who later led peace negotiations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, an effort that led to the 1998 Good Friday Accord aimed at stemming the long-standing conflict there.

Obama has declined to comment in detail on the Gaza crisis and other foreign policy issues during the weeks before he takes over from George W. Bush, citing the principle that there should be only one president at a time.

With Israeli troops withdrawing from Gaza after a 22-day offensive and having declared a ceasefire along with Hamas, the new administration may want to move cautiously, allowing the Egyptians and Europeans first to pursue their own initiatives.

Born in Waterville, Maine, Mitchell was the fourth son of a janitor of Irish descent and his Lebanese immigrant wife.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said appointing Mitchell would show Obama's determination to reclaim U.S. leadership on Middle East peace issues.

"This is a president who appears to be serious on the Middle East from day one. This is an appointment that sends the message, 'I'm ready to solve this,'" Zogby said.

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