The Cable

Middle east envoy Mitchell speaks to Jewish leaders

The White House organized a conference call for Jewish community leaders with U.S. special envoy for Arab-Israeli peace Sen. George Mitchell this morning, sources tell The Cable.

Also on the call from the administration were deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs David Hale, Tina Tchen, director of the White House public liaison office, and two people currently assigned to help Tchen do outreach to the Jewish community, Danielle Borrin from the office of the vice president and Susan Sher, associate counsel for the president.

"Mitchell was a tour de force," says Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, a Washington issue advocacy group. "He was both a skilled diplomat in not being pushed into positions that the administration was opposed to or was not ready to take, but also in a very diplomatic way was willing to say, that [the administration] disagrees with people from different ideological perspectives."

Mitchell repeatedly emphasized two goals, Forman added. His, president Obama's and the secretary of state's "firm, unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security. And [their] commitment to a peace process leading to a two-state solution. … He said the issue is as difficult as it gets, but he would not have taken the job if he didn’t think it was possible."

"He was someone eminently comfortable, who knew what he wanted to say, and he showed that he understood the audience very well, as a politician."

(Another of the call's participants twittered the call.)

Mitchell said that on the plane back from his recent trip to the Middle East, he had re-read his eight-year-old report on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and was struck by how much the situation had changed. Among the changes he noted, Mitchell said that eight years ago, no one talked about Iran. But this time, everyone mentioned it, both Israeli and Arab leaders.

The Mitchell conference call today was the second one the White House had organized with Jewish community leaders this week alone. Earlier this week, the White House public liaison office organized an off-the-record call with Jewish community leaders concerning whether the Obama administration should participate in the Durban II conference on racism, a conference that has in the past been a forum for anti-Israel sentiment.

The Cable

Chas Freeman to chair NIC?

Sources tell The Cable that Chas W. Freeman, Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, will become chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the intelligence community's primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates.

Freeman (shown above shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao) has told associates that in the job, he will occasionally accompany Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. His predecessor, Thomas Fingar, wore a second hat as deputy director of national intelligence for analysis (a job held since December by Peter Lavoy); sources thought it unclear whether Freeman would have that title as well.

Associates say that at a recent board meeting of the Middle East Policy Council, of which he has been president, Freeman said that he was resigning to take a job in the administration. He said his post was not in the State Department and did not require confirmation, but did not specify what the job was.

Former NIC official Paul Pillar said the council has occasionally had chairmen who came from outside of the intelligence community -- mostly from academia, such as Harvard Kennedy School dean emeritus Joseph S. Nye.

Freeman, who was Richard Nixon's principal translator in Beijing in 1972, has been traveling in China and could not be reached. A spokesman for ODNI said the office would not comment on possible appointments.

Photo: JONATHAN ERNST/AFP/Getty Images