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Obama Names Envoys For Afghanistan, Mideast

  • Heather Maher

U.S. President Barack Obama (center) with Richard Holbrooke (left) and George Mitchell at the State Department on January 22

U.S. President Barack Obama (center) with Richard Holbrooke (left) and George Mitchell at the State Department on January 22

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has named special envoys to the Afghanistan and Pakistan region and the Middle East.

George Mitchell, a former U.S. senator and experienced international negotiator, will be Obama's envoy to the Middle East, charged with advancing the stalled Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the deal that ended the war in Bosnia, was named special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama appeared at the State Department on January 22 with his newly confirmed secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to announce the appointments.

Clinton, who was greeted with a round of rapturous applause by State Department employees when she arrived at the building earlier in the day, said diplomacy and development will be critical components of the Obama administration's foreign policy.

"Today we start the hard work to restore our standing and enable our country to meet the vexing new challenges of the 21st century but also to seize the opportunities that await us," Clinton said. "The president is committed to making diplomacy and development the partners in our foreign policy, along with defense."

Clinton said going forward, the United States "must be smarter" about how it uses its power.

Urgent Challenges

Obama enters office facing a slate of urgent foreign policy challenges. They include shifting the focus of antiterrorism efforts from Iraq to Afghanistan, reducing the threat from Iran's nuclear activities and support of terrorism, and quelling the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

There will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He has already ordered a full review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and told his generals to take the first steps toward fulfilling his campaign pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Osama bin Laden and other top Al-Qaeda militants are thought to be hiding in the mountainous border region of Pakistan near Afghanistan.

Holbrooke, 67, brokered the Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia. He was a contender for secretary of state in President Bill Clinton's administration, but the job went to Madeleine Albright instead. Holbrooke became U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

In announcing Holbrook's appointment, Obama stressed the importance of diplomacy and development in the Afghan-Pakistan region and said the deteriorating situation there is an "urgent threat" to global security.

"This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism," Obama said. "There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problems in isolation. There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al-Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border [with Pakistan], and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan."

In his selection of former U.S. Senator Mitchell, 75, as envoy to the Middle East, Obama has chosen a seasoned diplomat known for his negotiating skills.

'Active Engagement'

Mitchell is best known for helping to end the protracted struggle between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, but he also has experience in the Middle East and was appointed by former President Clinton to find ways to stop the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

In 2001, Mitchell authored a report that called for Israel to halt construction of new settlements on disputed territory and for Palestinians to get tougher on terrorism.

The morning after his inauguration, Obama called Israeli and Arab leaders to commit himself to "active engagement" in the Middle East and to promise to help with the Gaza cease-fire.

At the State Department, he reiterated that commitment.

"It will be the policy of my administration to actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its Arab neighbors," he said.

He told the room full of diplomats and development experts that the times demand a "new era of American leadership" and that era must begin now.
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