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U.S. officials: Mitchell eyed for Mideast post

President Barack Obama is preparing to tap George Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic leader, for a top diplomatic post for the Middle East.
/ Source: The Associated Press

George J. Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic leader, is expected to be named as incoming Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's special envoy for the Mideast, diplomatic officials said Wednesday.

The officials said the White House was preparing an announcement, but the parameters of Mitchell's role were not immediately clear. Recent reports indicated that Dennis Ross, longtime U.S. negotiator, would be an adviser to Clinton on Mideast policy and that remains the plan, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the move.

President Obama has vowed to move swiftly to meet challenges in the Middle East and other troubled overseas regions. In his inauguration address on Tuesday, he described the United States as a friend of all as it seeks "a future of peace and dignity." Obama renewed that commitment in telephone calls Wednesday to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

"He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

In taking the Mideast envoy post, Mitchell, 75, will return to a role he pursued during President Bill Clinton's presidency after his tenure as Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995. The former senior senator from Maine, Mitchell took on several difficult diplomatic assignments, including chairing peace talks on Northern Ireland.

Mitchell also led an international commission to investigate violence in the Middle East. His report, issued in spring 2001, after Clinton had left office, called for a freeze on Israeli settlements on the West Bank and a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism.

Mitchell also headed a 20-month investigation for major league baseball into ballplayers' use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Aaron David Miller, a longtime U..S. negotiator in the area, said the appointment of Mitchell loomed as the most important one Obama would make.

"It reflects a serious commitment by the new administration to addressing the Arab-Israeli crisis, he has real negotiating experience in Northern Ireland and the Middle East and he understands the requirements of both sides," Miller said in an interview.

The White House also is expected to announce appointment of Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Bosnia peacemaker, as a special adviser to Clinton on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Obama signaled to the Muslim world that "we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

In Amman, the Jordanian government said Abdullah told Obama he looked forward to working with the president on the basis of a two-state solution, one state for Israel and the other for Palestinians.

The king considers it "the only way to ensure security and stability in the region," the Jordanian information office said.

Eygpt's Mubarak, in a congratulatory message, told Obama the region has "high hopes that your administration will deal with the Palestinian issue from its first day as an immediate priority and a key for solving other issues in the Middle East.'