Mitchell: Mideast efforts not lost

Posted Oct. 22, 2009, at 9:08 p.m.

WATERVILLE, Maine — President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy George Mitchell said Thursday it’s too soon to brand his efforts to resume peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders a failure.

The former Senate leader, who brokered the 1999 Northern Ireland peace agreement, said the administration is deeply committed to the peace process. He said no other president has taken action so early in his administration to start peace talks in the region whose conflicts have “deep and historic roots.”

“There’s a sense of urgency, a sense of involvement and commitment” on the part of the president, Mitchell said before delivering a speech on conflict resolution at Colby College, where his father once worked as a janitor.

His speech also came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a report on the progress of peace efforts in the Mideast. Mitchell has been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders for months in an attempt to get peace talks between the two sides going again.

Mitchell acknowledged setbacks in the process, including a United Nations report that accused Israel and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes last winter.

“We continue in our efforts, notwithstanding that” report, Mitchell said. He noted that the United States has taken the position that the report is “one-sided and deeply flawed.”

He said the process has been in motion only for months. His experience in Northern Ireland from 1995 to 1999 suggests that the current peacemaking effort could take years.

“I am not in the slightest discouraged,” said the 76-year-old Mitchell.

He recalled being asked “hundreds of times” while negotiating in Northern Ireland when he was going home because the talks were considered a failure. He finally brokered the Good Friday peace accords in 1999.

The current efforts are “as difficult and complex as everyone told me it would be,” said Mitchell. “But we are determined to stay the course … until the job is done.”

Mitchell said he and Clinton plan to attend a conference in Morocco on Nov. 2 where they will meet with foreign ministers from most or all of the Arab countries.

“The secretary of state has been directly and personally and actively involved” in the process, said Mitchell, adding that he completed a round of meetings this week with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators where “some good progress” was made.

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