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Mitchell heading to Mideast

TUESDAY, JAN. 27, 2009

WASHINGTON – Launching the Obama administration’s first Middle East peace mission, former Sen. George J. Mitchell brings a track record of patience and persistence in protracted negotiations.

And Mitchell, described Monday by President Barack Obama as the man who “speaks for us” on Mideast issues, knows long odds when he sees them.

At an earlier State Department ceremony announcing his appointment as Obama’s special envoy for Middle East peace, Mitchell recalled his role in producing Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace accord in 1998.

“In the negotiations which led to that agreement, we had 700 days of failure and one day of success,” he said. “For most of the time, progress was nonexistent or very slow. So I understand the feelings of those who may be discouraged about the Middle East.”

Mitchell, 75, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Obama at the White House on Monday before Mitchell embarked on what the State Department said would be at least an eight-day journey.

The decision to appoint a presidential envoy, and to dispatch him to the Middle East so early in the administration, is a sign that Obama intends to take a more active approach to the peace process than did his predecessor.

“The charge that Sen. Mitchell has is to engage vigorously and consistently in order for us to achieve genuine progress,” Obama said before a phalanx of photographers in the Cabinet Room of the White House, with Mitchell at his side. “And when I say progress, not just photo ops but progress that is concrete.”

His first stop today is to be Egypt, followed by visits to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. His schedule includes stops in Paris and London early next week on his way back to Washington.

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