A senior US official has announced today that US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell,77, plans to resign. The former Northern Ireland peace envoy has led Obama’s administration’s effort to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The White House will make an official announcement later today.

Speaking during a telephone interview with MaineToday media group, in Mitchell’s home state, President Obama said “George is by any measure one of the finest public servants our nation has ever had.” The President who refereed to Mitchell as “a good friend” did not refer to his resignation.

This announcement comes ahead of Obama’s speech laying out his new Middle East strategy. The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu will also visit the White House on May 20. Jordan’s King Abdullah II also will travel to Washington next week.

Mitchell was one of the first members of Obama’s foreign police team. He travelled between Washington and the Middle East trying to set up new negotiations. Although peace talks resumed breifly last year but collapsed over Jewish settlement construction on occupied land.

In December the US scrapped efforts to relaunch direct peace talks and Mitchell has not revisited the region since.

Jay Carney, White House spokesman said the administration remains focused on the peace process. He siad “The president’s commitment remains as firm as it was when he took office...This is a hard issue, an extraordinary hard issue.”

Recently Obama appointed Daniel Shapiro to his Middle East policy team. He was a senior adviser who helped to shaped the response to the Middle East upheaval. He also nominated his as the new US ambassador to Israel.



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Former Senator and Northern Ireland peace envoy George J. MitchellGetty Images