In 2000, he also presided over a committee investigating the ongoing violence of the Middle East conflict, which recommended Palestinians do more to stop attacks on Israel and an end to Israeli settlement building on occupied land.

Middle East priority

In depth

Profile: George Mitchell

Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East negotiator and analyst, told the Associated Press that Mitchell's appointment reflected "serious commitment by the new administration to addressing the Arab-Israeli crisis".

"He has real negotiating experience in Northern Ireland and the Middle East and he understands the requirements of both sides," he added.

Obama, who was inaugurated as US president on Tuesday, made phone calls to several key leaders in the Middle East on Wednesday as the region continued to deal with the aftershocks of Israel's offensive in Gaza.

These included Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, Jordan's King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said.