WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton took charge of the State Department on Thursday, proclaiming the start of a new era of robust U.S. diplomacy and announcing the appointment of two special envoys to South Asia and the Middle East.
With Mr. Obama at her side in the ornate Ben Franklin Room, the nation's 67th secretary of state introduced former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, as a special envoy for the Middle East. Former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke was announced as a special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The posts are the first of several new special envoys the administration plans to create to deal with particularly vexing problems abroad.
Mitchell said he'll be facing a "volatile, complex and dangerous" conflict - one that has become so entrenched, it's seen by many as unchangeable. But he said Mr. Obama and Clinton aren't convinced of that.
Later, Mr. Obama said he will aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and that the U.S. will always defend Israel's "right to defend itself."
Meanwhile, Holbrooke noted that Pakistan and Afghanistan have "different histories" and traditions, yet find themselves inextricably linked. Referring to the Taliban and al Qaeda, he said both countries are waging a difficult struggle against an "enemy without any scruples" in the tribal areas along their shared border.
Mr. Obama cited a "deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan" and said that region is now "the central front" in the battle against terrorism and extremism.
"We can no longer afford drift, we can no longer afford delay," he said.