President Barack Obama on Thursday named special envoys for the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and promised US help in ensuring a lasting truce in Gaza.
Obama chose George Mitchell, a former senator and seasoned international trouble-shooter, as an envoy who will try to jump-start moribund Arab-Israeli peace talks.
In a flurry of diplomatic activity in his first week in office, Obama also tapped former ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and related issues.
Both the envoys have records of success in helping settle long-running violent conflicts - Mitchell in Northern Ireland and Holbrooke in the Balkans.
Clinton and Obama on Thursday (Photo: AP)
"We have no time to lose," said Obama, who was sworn in on Tuesday and is moving quickly to tackle foreign policy challenges he highlighted during his campaign.
Obama introduced Mitchell and Holbrooke at an event with newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and underscored his pledge to engage early on the Middle East.
Mitchell will go to the Middle East to help ensure the durability of the ceasefire in Gaza, which was left devastated by a 22-day Israeli offensive against Hamas.
"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.
On the morning after his inauguration, Obama called Israeli and Arab leaders to commit himself to "active engagement" in the Middle East and to promise help consolidating the Gaza ceasefire.
Mitchell, 75, is best known for peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland, but he also has experience in the Middle East and was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to find ways to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Mitchell's 2001 report called for Israelis to freeze construction of new settlements and for Palestinians to crack down on terrorism. Mitchell is the son of a Lebanese immigrant mother and a father of Irish descent.
Mitchell said that from his experience working on the Northern Ireland issue, he "formed the conviction that there is no conflict that cannot be ended."
"I believe deeply that with committed persevering and patient diplomacy it can be achieved in the Middle East," he said.
He acknowledged there were many reasons to be skeptical that peace could be achieved in the Middle East. The conflict there had gone on for so long that "many have come to regard it as unchangeable and inevitable," he said.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said he hoped the appointment of the new Mideast envoy would signal a shift in the US approach toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"We will deal with Obama's envoy and we hope he will work fast to implement the road map and the Arab peace initiative as well as international agreements and to implement Obama's change policy in order to bring justice and freedom to our people," he said.
Hamas said Thursday that Obama's position toward the Palestinians does not represent change and will lead to the same mistakes as his predecessor.
The comments by Beirut-based Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan follow Obama's first public comments on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis since his inauguration.
Hamdan told Al-Jazeera television he expected Obama to experience failure in the region over the next four years if he sticks with his current position.