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George Mitchell named special envoy for the Middle East

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  • NEW: Mitchell says a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living in peace is possible
  • Former Senate majority leader is announced as envoy for the Middle East
  • Richard Holbrooke named as special rep to Afghanistan, Pakistan
  • Holbrooke is former U.N. ambassador and architect of Dayton Accords
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was named special envoy for the Middle East during an event at the State Department on Thursday afternoon.

President Obama, left, with George Mitchell, right, who was named special Middle East envoy Thursday.

President Obama, left, with George Mitchell, right, who was named special Middle East envoy Thursday.

The move could signal that Obama plans to get involved in the Mideast peace process early in his term. It was announced just before 3 p.m. at an event with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Also Thursday, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was named special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced.

Holbrooke, who worked as a diplomat, journalist and investment banker, became one of the most influential diplomats in U.S. history when he worked in the mid-90s to end the brutal fighting in the Balkans.

He was the main architect of the Dayton Accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After he was officially named Obama's envoy, Mitchell said, "I don't underestimate the difficulty of this assignment."

"The situation in the Middle East is volatile, complex and dangerous. But the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that danger and difficulty cannot cause the United States to turn away," he said. Video Watch Mitchell accept his appointment »

Mitchell said that along with Obama and Clinton, he believed a goal of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side was possible and the conflict, even if centuries old, could end -- a lesson, he said, he learned during his negotiations in Northern Ireland.

"From my experience there, I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can't be ended," Mitchell said. "Conflicts are created, conducted and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings."

In recent days, Obama officials talked to Israeli, Palestinian and Arab diplomats about the choice, sources close to the administration and diplomats told CNN.

After Mitchell was introduced Thursday, Obama said, "Time and again, in public service and private life, he has acted with skill and acted with integrity. He will be fully empowered at the negotiating table, and he will sustain our focus on the goal of peace. "

Mitchell served as a Mideast envoy for the Bush administration, writing a 2001 report that called for a halt to Israeli settlements and greater Palestinian efforts to crack down on terror.

He also was a peace broker on Northern Ireland for President Clinton.

Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States, released a statement Thursday saying, "Israel holds Sen. Mitchell in high regard and looks forward to working with him on taking the next steps towards realizing a future of peace and security for Israel and her neighbors."

Meridor also said Holbrooke was a "longstanding friend of Israel and we wish him every success."

Holbrooke called his mission "a very difficult assignment."

"Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well, and yet, as we speak here today, American men and women and their coalition partners are fighting a very difficult struggle against a ruthless and determined enemy without any scruples at all," he said after his appointment was announced.

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But Holbrooke said, "If our resources are mobilized and coordinated and pulled together, we can quadruple, quintuple, multiply by tenfold the effectiveness of our efforts there."

Mitchell and Holbrooke are two of several envoys who will work in the new administration. Sources say Dennis Ross, a former Mideast peace envoy for several previous administrations, will be an envoy in charge of engaging Iran, but it's unclear what role he'll play in light of Mitchell's appointment.

CNN's Ed Henry and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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