US Mideast comments not likely soon

Officials have no information on who'll be US's new Middle East envoy; Olmert congratulates Obama.

obama says hi inauguration 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
obama says hi inauguration 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Despite new US President Barack Obama's pledge to delve into the Israeli-Arab conflict "from day one," it is likely the new administration will step gingerly in its public comments until after the elections here on February 10, Israeli officials said Tuesday. For all the anticipation that the Obama Administration would want to delve into the Middle East from the outset, "The new administration will unlikely want to say anything that could be seen as interfering in the Israeli elections, or which could influence the elections," an official said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert congratulated Obama Tuesday in a statement issued by his office. "Barack Obama has impressed the whole world with his trek to the White House, his ability to inspire his nation and the entire world," Olmert said. "I am sure that close ties between the US and Israel will get stronger. The values of democracy, fraternity and freedom that are the cornerstones of American society are also common to Israeli society, as well as the faith in the strength and ability of man to change his surroundings." The official said that Israel was still in the dark regarding who Obama and secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton, expected to be confirmed by Wednesday, would pick as Middle East envoy. The official said Israel has not received any confirmation that former senator George Mitchell has been tabbed for the job, as was widely reported in the US media over the last two days. Mitchell headed a committee in 2001 that looked at the causes of the Palestinian violence of September 2000, and recommended ways - which were not implemented - to end it. Mitchell also served as the US special envoy to Northern Ireland whose work led to the Belfast Peace Agreement in 1998. Mitchell was succeeded in that job by Richard Haass, a State Department official under the first President George Bush, whose name has also been mentioned in recent days as a possible Middle East envoy. Haass is currently the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Other names mentioned for this post are former ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, and former US Mideast envoy Dennis Ross. Israeli officials also do not know whether there will be one envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian issue and another for Iran, or whether there will be just one envoy for all Middle East affairs. The speculation is expected to end in the next few days with announcements of who will fill what key Middle East positions.