January 27, 2009 - 1:00am

U.S. President Barack Obama's new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, arrived in Cairo on Tuesday as he embarked on a week-long tour to the region and Europe. The trip kicks off the new administration's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and shore up a shaky Gaza truce.

Mitchell, a former U.S. senator, was to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday at the start of the trip, which will also take him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Monday that Mitchell "is coming to listen to regional leaders."

"He wants to begin working," the spokesman said. "He will assess the situation and report his conclusions to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."

Obama, wading quickly into Middle East diplomacy, said in an interview aired Monday that the time was ripe to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and that his administration would adopt a more comprehensive approach in its relations with the Muslim world..

"Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace. We're going to start now," Obama told Qatari-based Al-Arabiya television in his first television interview.

"He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response," Obama said. He added that he had told Mitchell to "start by listening."

Mitchell, a mediator who helped to resolve the Northern Ireland conflict, was named by Clinton last week to lead U.S. efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The envoy was dispatched to the Middle East in 2001 to pen a report on the outbreak of the second intifada. The document, dubbed the "Mitchell Report," included recommendations for confidence-building measures for each side. However ultimately both Israel and the Palestinians failed to implement these recommendations, and the report was subsequently shelved.

Critics faulted the Bush administration for what they viewed as its relative disengagement from Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking until its last year, when it tried but failed to mediate an agreement by the end of 2008.

Obama has made clear the Middle East conflict will be a high priority as he tries to repair a U.S. image battered by the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's perceived "cowboy diplomacy."


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