Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is stepping down as the United States' special envoy on Mideast peace, an official acknowledgement that the Obama administration’s 2-year-old peace initiative is dead.
Associates said Mitchell saw little point in continuing in the job, since there had been little movement in the peace effort since last fall.
Mitchell's resignation takes effect May 20. President Obama officially announced his departure Friday afternoon.
"Over the past 2 1/2 years, George Mitchell has worked as a tireless advocate for peace as the U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East. His deep commitment to resolving conflict and advancing democracy has contributed immeasurably to the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security," he said in a statement.
The president offered no indication as to why Mitchell was leaving now, saying only that when Mitchell initially accepted the post, he said that he would only serve for "a couple of years."
"He took on the toughest job imaginable and worked grueling hours to advance the interests of the United States and the cause of peace," Obama said.
David Hale, Mitchell's deputy, will serve as the acting envoy.
The timing of the announcement is conspicuous. On Tuesday King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key voice in the peace process, is to meet with Obama at the White House. On Thursday the president will deliver a speech on the so-called Arab spring and U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama on May 20, and will deliver an address to a joint session of Congress the following week.
Earlier Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday that Obama's commitment to seeking peace remains "as firm as it was when he took office."
"The fact that this is a hard issue, an extraordinarily hard issue, is not news to anyone in this room or anyone who’s ever attempted to work on it over these many years," he said. "But the fact is that it's important and the president is committed to continue working on it, and the fact that he's having these meetings next week proves that."