Q&A with George Mitchell

In 1995, George Mitchell decided it was time to leave the Senate. But a week later President Clinton convinced him to take on the tough task of bringing peace to Northern Ireland, and soon Mitchell found himself at a negotiating table filled with old and bitter grievances between Catholics and Protestants.

"How did you find the patience to deal with so many different parties and make that all happen?" Braver asked.

"Very early in the process I said, 'Look, I'm a product of the U.S. Senate. I've listened to 16-hour speeches. There's nothing you guys can say that can faze me.'"

"He's brilliant at that," said President Clinton, "just hammering through and working on their psychology and their needs and listening carefully to what they need."

Finally, after three years of intense negotiation, Mitchell sealed a peace deal, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II.

Through it all he always returns to his beloved Maine, where he's built a family retreat, on land once owned by David Rockefeller.

Still, it doesn't take much to pull Mitchell back into service. A life-long baseball fan, he was tapped to run an investigation into steroid use by players, and his 2007 report is credited with helping to clean up the sport.

More people read that than my reports on Ireland and the Middle East," Mitchell mused.

It was in 2009 that President Obama named him chief negotiator in the Middle East.

"Senator Mitchell is going to be fully empowered by me and by Secretary Clinton," said Mr. Obama, "so when he speaks, he will be speaking for us."

But the intractable Middle East proved to be one place where even Mitchell could not prevail. After two years he stepped down, to spend more time with his wife, Heather, and their two children.

Yet, despite the obstacles in the Middle East, this American statesman is still full of hope.

"I believe that Israelis and Palestinians will come together to reach an agreement to end the conflict, in my lifetime," Mitchell said. "But that belief is based primarily on the reality that it is so much in their interest, both societies, to bring this conflict to an end."

And as for George Mitchell, at 79 he doesn't rule out taking on another big assignment.

"I can't imagine any American saying no to a president who asks you to do something that is meaningful for the country and for our people," he said.

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