mitchell - AP - April 13 2011
U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell, currently U.S. President Obama's Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, in New York, April 13, 2011. Photo by AP
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U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, who has led the Obama administration's efforts to restart direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, plans to resign on Friday, a U.S. official said.

Mitchell's departure comes ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's expected speech laying out his new Middle East strategy and a visit to the White House by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 20.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mitchell's resignation would be announced by the White House later on Friday. There are no imminent plans
to announce a replacement for Mitchell, the officials said, although his staff
is expected to remain in place at least temporarily.

Mitchell, 77, a former U.S. senator who helped broker the Northern Ireland peace deal, was one of the first members of Obama's foreign policy team to be announced, on Obama's second full day in office in January 2009, and has shuttled extensively between Washington and Middle East capitals trying to set up new negotiations.

Direct peace talks resumed briefly last year but broke down over a dispute surrounding Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank. Faced with a deadlock, the United States in December scrapped efforts to relaunch direct peace talks and Mitchell has not visited the region since then.

Obama has recently made changes to his Middle East policy team and named Daniel Shapiro, a senior adviser who has helped shape the response to the Middle East upheaval, as his nominee to be the new U.S. ambassador to Israel.