The State Department has tapped former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart to be its newest envoy to Northern Ireland.

In an announcement Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry says Hart will help smooth negotiations in the new round of power-sharing talks among the government's five-party coalition.

The talks opened last week in Belfast amid low hopes of progress, and with many disputes to resolve between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

Kerry calls Hart one of the United States' most respected senior statesmen, and says the talks need to strengthen Northern Ireland's institutions and economy.

He adds that  Hart, a former  U.S. senator, expects to visit Belfast before November.

Hart ran for president in 1984 and 1988.