The Envoy
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    President Barack Obama was moved to release his birth certificate Wednesday largely on the grounds that it was time for the nation to return its attention to more pressing matters. At the top of the White House list: impending major changes of the guard in Obama's national security team, prompted by Defense Secretary Bob Gates' plans to retire this summer.

    Obama will announce on Thursday his decision to name CIA director Leon Panetta to succeed Gates as Secretary of Defense, and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to succeed Panetta at the helm of the CIA, officials said. He will also name Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen--Petraeus' former deputy commander at U.S. Central Command--to succeed Petraeus, and veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker to become U.S. envoy to Kabul.

    White House officials emphasized the deep experience and proven effectiveness of all four appointees and the "seamless transition" they will bring to managing current security challenges from Afghanistan to Iran to Yemen.

    Washington national security experts said the appointments show Obama values continuity and effectiveness over any radical change, and plans to continue pursuing a centrist national security policy.

    "Obama doesn't want to shake up the...establishment," Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the progressive National Security Network and a former Clinton administration official, told the Envoy. "If there's any shaking up to be done, it will be done by him and not by anyone else."

    Read More »from White House stresses “seamless transition” in picks of Panetta, Petraeus to head Defense, CIA
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    Palestinian rivals are closing ranks in anticipation of a planned September bid to seek U.N. recognition of an independent Palestinian state--a move that may further complicate Washington's hapless efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the peace table. Representatives of rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah announced Wednesday they've made progress towards ending their four-year sometimes bloody feud.

    Hamas and Fatah representatives reportedly signed the initial part of the reconciliation pact Wednesday in Cairo. The agreement provides for new Palestinian elections to be held in a year's time, according to a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also head of the more moderate Fatah party. In the meantime, the spokesman said, the two factions will agree on a new government of experts.

    Washington appeared to be blindsided by the reported agreement, which Palestinian officials said would be finalized at a signing ceremony in Cairo by the end of the week.

    Some veteran Middle East observers expressed skepticism the deal would materialize, noting that past reconciliation agreements had often broken down at the last minute.

    But things could be different this time, thanks both to possible UN recognition in the fall and the rapidly changing political dynamic in the Middle East. One key shift, of course, is the fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who had shared Israel's and Fatah's hostility to Hamas, which controls Gaza and which is an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, the Syrian protests currently targeting the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad, complicate the political picture for the more vehemently anti-Israel and Islamist Hamas, which has long enjoyed Assad's support.

    So far, the prospect of a more united Palestinian front hasn't touched off much enthusiasm among several key players in Jerusalem and Washington.

    Read More »from U.S., Israel wary as Palestinian factions advance unity deal
  • GatesPanettasmallThe Obama administration will announce key changes to the U.S. national security team this week. Among them, as previously reported: CIA Director Leon Panetta will be nominated to succeed Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense, and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus to become CIA director.

    Veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker is also expected to be named the next U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, to succeed Amb. Karl Eikenberry. Deputy Centcom commander Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen will be named the next top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

    The White House will announce the new appointments on Thursday, ABC News reported.

    Panetta, 72, has received wide acclaim for overseeing the troubled U.S. spy agency and will bring a wealth of high-level bureaucratic and budget management expertise to one of the most challenging jobs in the government. Among his credentials are tours as White House chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton. A former nine-term California lawmaker, Panetta also is well-connected on Capitol Hill, and is expected to win easy confirmation as DoD chief.

    Read More »from Panetta for Defense, Petraeus for CIA, Crocker, Allen to Kabul

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