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Obama Appoints Special Envoys, Underscores Importance of Diplomacy

Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2009 –

President Barack Obama traveled to the State Department today to announce the appointment of two special envoys: former Maine Sen. George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East peace and Richard Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The president thanked the men for taking on the tasks; both are seasoned diplomats with Mitchell negotiating in Northern Ireland and Holbrooke responsible for the Dayton Accords that brought peace to Bosnia.

The president spoke to the assembled foreign service and civil service audience about the importance of democracy to his administration, echoing themes from his inaugural speech.

“We must recognize that America's strength comes not just from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from our enduring values,” he said. “And for the sake of our national security and the common aspirations of people around the globe, this era has to begin now.”

Diplomacy will lead U.S. efforts throughout the world, Obama said.

“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,” the president said.

Mitchell “will be fully empowered at the negotiating table,” Obama said.

The president reiterated U.S. support and commitment to Israeli security. “We will always support Israel's right to defend itself against legitimate threats,” he said. “For years, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at innocent Israeli citizens. No democracy can tolerate such danger to its people, nor should the international community and neither should the Palestinian people themselves, whose interests are only set back by acts of terror.”

While Hamas rockets are unacceptable, so is a future without hope for Palestinians, Obama said. “I was deeply concerned by the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent days, and by the substantial suffering and humanitarian needs in Gaza,” he said. “Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace.”

Obama called Afghanistan and Pakistan the central front in the enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.

“We must understand that we cannot deal with our problem in isolation,” he said. “There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the al-Qaida and Taliban bases along the border. And there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Any progress in the region will take time, Obama said. Violence in Afghanistan has risen, insurgents fielded and the opium trade has grown. Outside Kabul, the Afghan government is unable to deliver basic services.

“While we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al-Qaida terrorists remain at large and remain plotting,” Obama said.

The United States aims to strengthen partnerships with regional governments and sustain cooperation with NATO allies.

“We will provide the strategic guidance to meet our objectives,” the president said. “And we pledge to support the extraordinary Americans serving in Afghanistan, both military and civilian, with the resources that they need.”

The president also spoke on the executive orders he signed earlier today. The orders call for all U.S. interrogations to abide by rules articulated in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3; the closure of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Cuba; and a comprehensive review to determine how to hold and try terrorism suspects.

“The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States,” he said.

These orders send the signal to the world that the United States will uphold its fundamental values even when threatened, he said.

“Once again America's moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership,” Obama said. “We are confronted by extraordinary, complex and interconnected global challenges: war on terror, sectarian division and the spread of deadly technology. We did not ask for the burden that history has asked us to bear, but Americans will bear it. We must bear it.”

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