US President Barack Obama on Thursday picked two high-powered peacemakers for the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, in yet another break with the policy of former president George W. Bush.
In an aggressive push for peace in the world’s most intractable hot spots, Obama named Northern Ireland mediator George Mitchell for the Middle East and Balkans broker Richard Holbrooke for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Flanked by the pair, Obama told US diplomats that he and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summoned the envoys to “convey our seriousness of purpose” in light of “the urgency and complexity of the challenges we face.”
Clinton, who led the State Department ceremony that was also attended by Vice President Joe Biden, said: “Anything short of relentless diplomatic efforts will fail to produce a lasting, sustainable peace in either place.”
The former US first lady said the State Department was “grateful” that Obama, on only his second day in office, was taking prompt action to deal with “two of the biggest foreign policy challenges of our time.”
Obama’s choice of two such respected envoys signaled a new engagement in global affairs by his administration — and another break with the policy of the former administration, who resisted such a step.
The new president has also pledged to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
However, there was little sign Obama would drop the Bush administration’s hard line toward the Hamas Islamist movement when he backed Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip as a defensive move against Hamas rocket fire.
He called on Israel to open Gaza border crossings to aid and commerce to help ease the plight of Palestinians, but he made no mention of Jewish settlement building in the West Bank — a sore point for the Palestinians.
Obama said he was sending Mitchell to the region as soon as possible to help shore up a fragile ceasefire that took hold last weekend after a three-week Israeli offensive left more than 1,330 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
“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,” Obama said.