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U.N. Chief Appoints Bill Clinton as Haiti Envoy

The United Nations named former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday as its special envoy to Haiti, with a mission to help the impoverished nation achieve some measure of stability after devastating floods and other crises.

"It is very important to help this country," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Geneva.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also praised the appointment. "We think that Ban Ki-moon has chosen a high-profile envoy to raise the visibility of the needs of the people of Haiti," she told reporters at the White House.

"It's the kind of partnership we are looking for across the board," she said, explaining that the Obama administration had already been preparing a team to help Haiti. "This is going to be an added bit of leverage and focus for us."

Clinton is popular in Haiti, but the U.N.'s peacekeepers have been widely criticized despite providing the nation with its only real security for years. The peacekeepers have patrolled since 2004 and are training an under-equipped national police force to retake control, but some consider the blue helmets to be an unwanted occupation force.

Having Clinton as the U.N.'s public face in Haiti could temper such sentiment.

Clinton is still well-regarded here for using the threat of U.S. military force to oust a dictatorship in 1994, then sending Army troops and Marines to pave the way for the return of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been deposed in a coup.

Many poor Haitians -- Aristide's power base -- still long for their leader's return from exile after he was toppled a second time by a rebellion in 2004.

In March, Clinton toured the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince with the U.N. chief to encourage investment after a year that saw a food crisis, destabilizing riots and four devastating tropical storms. The former president was mobbed by enthusiastic crowds.

The following month, he attended a donors conference in Washington that resulted in pledges of $324 million for the struggling country. Haiti is the hemisphere's poorest nation and has been mired for decades in political and social turmoil.

"I am confident that President Clinton will bring energy, dynamism and focus to the task of mobilizing international support for Haiti's economic recovery and reconstruction," Ban said.

Because of his marriage to Hillary Clinton, State Department lawyers must approve and review some of Clinton's international activities under an agreement between the U.S. Senate and the Clinton Foundation, which works in Haiti on a number of issues including health care, AIDS, the environment and economic development.

Haiti does not currently have a special U.N. envoy, and it is not clear what Clinton's duties will be. The Miami Herald, which first reported the appointment, said he will be expected to visit the Caribbean country -- a two-hour flight from Miami -- at least four times a year.

Clinton visited Haiti as president in 1995 and again in 2003. Hillary Clinton has also visited several times, most recently for an April meeting with President Rene Preval en route to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.