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Obama names special security envoy in the Middle East as next US security advisor


Date: 01.12.08

WASHINGTON (AFP) — General James Jones, set to be named Monday as the next national security adviser, knows pressure at the top from a lifetime's service that took him to the pinnacle of NATO.

Jones, 64, has remained in the public eye since standing down as the US-led alliance's supreme commander in late 2006 and retiring from the military in February 2007, after 40 years in the Marines.

He began his retirement by leading the Institute for 21st Century Energy set up by the powerful US Chamber of Commerce, examining ways of safeguarding clean energy supplies while ensuring national security.

At the institute's launch in June 2007, Jones reminisced how energy security was brought home to him when he had to queue to fill up his Volkswagen in Virginia during the middle of the night in 1973, during the first oil shock.

"Thirty-three years later, as commander of NATO, I worried early in the mornings about how to protect energy facilities and supply chain routes as far away as Africa, the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea," he said.

But since November 2007 he has been acting as the special security envoy in the Middle East for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with a particular focus on overseeing development of Palestinian security forces.

His role has been assisting the Palestinians to "better design a security concept" for the future country they want to create, Rice said when he was nominated.

"Security in the Middle East is the surest path to making peace in the Middle East," she said.

"Any lasting peace must be built on solid foundations of security. Israelis must be confident that a Palestinian state will increase their security, not detract from it."

Analysts said he was a somewhat surprising choice, who will take a very hands-on approach.

"Jones ... knows all the pieces," said veteran political journalist Bob Woodward, longtime Washington chronicler, who noted that the former Marine was an early and vocal critic of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"Jones comes out of the Rumsfeld Pentagon as one of the renegades," he said, speaking on CBS television.

Woodward added: "Jones is strong. And he's going to be a voice. He obviously has established a relationship with Obama.

Fareed Zakaria, a columnist at Newsweek magazine, said Jones is a popular pick.

"He's respected not just here, but he was an extremely popular NATO commander with the Europeans, which is actually a rare feat," he said, also speaking on CBS.

"It also, I think, signals that Obama wants somebody at the White House who can run the process very well, but who will take charge and be very centrally involved in the two big problems he has immediately, which are Afghanistan and Iraq."

Jones was acting as the military counterpart to former British prime minister Tony Blair, who is now the international community's special envoy for Palestinian economic and social development.

A Vietnam veteran, Jones was elevated to the top NATO post of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in January 2003. The first Marine to hold the job, he brought a particular transatlantic perspective at a time when US-European ties were under severe strain during the build-up to the war in Iraq.

NATO itself was undergoing perhaps the worst political crisis of its history as France and Germany balked at US demands for the alliance to help in the event of an invasion of Iraq.

But having spent his formative years in France, the four-star general was said by colleagues to be perfectly at ease with the bilingual culture of the Brussels-based alliance.

NATO did not venture into Iraq, but under Jones did take charge of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, its first mission outside of Europe.

In previous posts, Jones was senior aide to then US defense secretary William Cohen in the Bill Clinton administration, and maintained strong political contacts after serving as the Marines' Senate liaison officer.