WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tapped a former NATO commander on Wednesday to serve as a special envoy for Middle East security, moving quickly to maintain momentum coming out of this week's international conference that launched new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
She said James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, was "the person we need to take up this vital mission."
"I believe we need an experienced leader who can address the regional security challenges comprehensively and at the highest levels and who can provide the full support of our government to the partners as they work to meet their responsibilities," Rice said.
"Building security in the Middle East is the surest path to making peace in the Middle East," Rice said, "and General Jones is the best individual to lead our efforts in this essential endeavor."
Jones, standing at Rice's side for the announcement in the State Department's historic Treaty Room, said he looked forward to returning to the region.
"I look forward to doing whatever I can to assist," Jones said.
The announcement came one day after Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to restart moribund peace talks.
Rice said that Jones would report directly to her.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said earlier that the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities. He said the special envoy would work closely with the U.S. security coordinator for the Palestinians, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who has been working in the region for two years and will remain in his post.
Jones, who ended his 40-year career in the Marines last February, will remain in his current job as president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Energy. Last summer he headed a congressionally chartered panel that studied the readiness of Iraq's army and police.
The United States pledged Tuesday at an international peace conference on the Mideast held in Annapolis, Md., to hold both sides to account if they do not carry out obligations.
The recently revived U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan quickly foundered after it was presented in 2003 because the Palestinians did not rein in militant groups and Israel did not freeze all construction in West Bank settlements, as it had pledged to do.
Bringing Jones in to closely follow the process is designed to assure that the newly resumed peace talks don't languish because promises are broken.
At Annapolis, Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday formally announced their intention to resume peace talks after seven years of violence. President Bush hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House for a ceremonial inauguration of the process earlier Wednesday.