Middle East peace envoy to quit post

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The Independent Online

The Obama administration's special Middle East envoy, former senator George Mitchell, was planning to resign yesterday after more than two largely fruitless years of trying to press Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks, American officials said.

The White House was expected to announce that the veteran mediator and broker of the Northern Ireland peace accord is stepping down for personal reasons, said officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. There were no imminent plans to announce a replacement for Mr Mitchell, although his staff is expected to remain in place at least temporarily.

Mr Mitchell's resignation comes at a critical time for the Middle East, which is embroiled in turmoil, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been moribund since last September and is now further complicated by an agreement between Palestinian factions to share power. Barack Obama is expected to deliver a speech next week about his administration's views of developments in the region ahead of a visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Since his appointment on Mr Obama's second full day in office in January 2009, Mr Mitchell, 77, had spent much of his time shuttling between the Israelis, Palestinians and friendly Arab states in a bid to restart long-stalled peace talks that would create an independent Palestinian state. But in recent months, particularly after the upheaval in Arab countries that ousted longtime US ally and key peace partner Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt, his activity had slowed.

Mr Mitchell has led a long career as politician, businessman, congressional investigator and international mediator. Upon being announced as the administration's point man for negotiations in the Middle East, he recalled his role in producing Northern Ireland's Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

"We had 700 days of failure and one day of success," he said. "For most of the time, progress was nonexistent or very slow."