Mitchell named US envoy to Mideast, Holbrooke to Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama has named George Mitchell as envoy to the Middle East and Richard Holbrooke as envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.


AFP - President Barack Obama on Thursday named two high-power envoys to the crisis-torn Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan, in yet another swift break with Bush administration policy.

Former senator and Northern Ireland peace mediator George Mitchell will try to bring his peacemaking credentials to bear in the intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and through the wider region.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton Accords which ended the Bosnian war, will take on responsibility for implementing an integrated strategy to US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I pledge my full effort to the search of peace and stability in the Middle East," said Mitchell, as he was introduced at a ceremony at the State Department by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with Obama at her side.

Holbrooke started his foreign service career as a junior State Department officer in what was then known as Saigon, during the Vietnam War.

He stressed Afghanistan and Pakistan were two "distinct " countries but were entwined by history and ethnic ties.

"This is a very difficult assignment as we all know," said Holbrooke, once dubbed the Kissinger of the Balkans.

"Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well."

"In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions."

Obama's decision to name two such respected and high profile envoys was meant to suggest a new engagement in global affairs by his administration -- and a marked departure from the policy of former president George W. Bush who resisted such a step.

Mitchell, a Maronite Catholic whose mother was Lebanese, managed to bring together the leaders of Northern Ireland's religious communities with a mixture of compromise and talks to sign the historic Good Friday agreement in 1998.

At the time Mitchell, a Democrat, was considered one of the only actors in the peace process enjoying the trust of all parties, earning a reputation in Belfast as a safe pair of hands and a shrewd, even-handed operator.

His peace efforts in the Middle East were less successful. In 2000 he was charged with presiding the committee bearing his name and finding ways of ending violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

In his report submitted in 2001 he called on both sides to take immediate measures to unconditionally end the violence but his calls went unheeded.


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