By Leigh Jones
NEW YORK, June 13 (Reuters) - George Mitchell, 77, returns
to DLA Piper on Monday after resigning in March as the special
envoy for Middle East peace. He didn't bring peace about
between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- for nearly a
century no one has -- but he said progress was made.
Mitchell renews his role at the 4,200-attorney law firm as
chairman emeritus, the job he gave up when President Barack
Obama appointed him to the Middle East position two years ago.
From 1989 to 1995, Mitchell served as Senate majority leader
and from 2004 to 2007, he was chairman of The Walt Disney Co.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1999 for his
role in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland, where he was
special envoy. In 2006, while at DLA Piper, he led an
investigation into steroid use within Major League Baseball and
authored the Mitchell Report. In his new position, Mitchell
plans to work on client development and to help handle
management matters, along with the firm's other leaders.
Reuters met Mitchell last week to talk about his recent
experience in the Middle East and his game plan going forward.
The questions and answers were edited for clarity and
Reuters: Did you expect to resign as special envoy to the
Middle East in March?
Mitchell: In my conversation with then-President Elect
Obama a week before he was inaugurated, I told him that I was
interested and would serve, but that I could not do it for a
whole presidential term. I had children late in life. My son is
13. My daughter is 10. I couldn't spend two years away from
them. I had been gone such tremendous period of time in
Northern Ireland. The president asked what I could commit to. I
said two years. He said, "We'll take it."
Reuters: Did you think you'd be able to effect significant
change in two years?
Mitchell: I learned long ago, particularly when undertaking
difficult assignments, not to establish artificial deadlines
for progress or lack of progress. As soon as you say it's a
deadline, the whole story becomes about whether you meet the
deadline. My only objective was to serve the best I could to
advance the objective that we all seek comprehensive peace in
the Middle East, recognizing the enormous difficulty,
complexity and long history of the conflict.
Reuters: Do you think we're any closer to resolution than
we were two years ago?
Mitchell: I frankly don't even think in those terms. But I
do think that what happens in these conflicts is that there is
a gradual building on the efforts of the past that ultimately,
in historical terms, is seen as progression toward the
objective. Israelis and Palestinians have a mutual interest.
Palestinians want a state. They're not going to get one until
the Israelis have reasonable and sustainable security. On the
other hand, Israelis are not going to get reasonable and
sustainable security until the Palestinians get a state. If you
can make sure the agreement has the central demand of each
side, you can get an agreement.
Reuters: What are going to do for DLA piper and why are you
coming back? Why not just travel or stay at home?
Mitchell: I don't believe in retirement.
Reuters: You said that investigations are the kind of work
you like. Is there something on the horizon?
Mitchell: I really wouldn't and shouldn't say anything
until something is set.
Reuters: President Bill Clinton wanted to nominate you to
the U.S. Supreme Court in the spring of 1994. Did you ever have
misgivings about turning the offer down?
Mitchell: I did for a short while afterward. One of the
things I learned early as a federal judge is to learn from your
mistakes, but don't be paralyzed by them. I had tried a lot of
cases as an advocate. The first night [as a judge], I couldn't
sleep wondering how many mistakes I had made. You have to look
forward and do the best you can. Of course it would've been a
great honor, but I didn't do it and I went on to Ireland and I
ended up in the Middle East and at DLA Piper.
Reuters: This is a goofy question. Who's your favorite
Disney character, if you have to pick one?
Mitchell: Oh well, you have to pick Mickey. He's the
foundation upon which the enterprise was built. My daughter,
when she was about three was frightened by Pluto and Goofy, but
she got over it real fast.
Reuters: Is there anything that you haven't done that you
would like to do? No is a legitimate answer.
Mitchell: I've never really thought about that. My problem
has been just the reverse. I've had too many things on my plate
and sometimes have overloaded my schedule to a point where I
couldn't effectively do everything well so I had to pull back.
I feel as though I've been really very lucky.
Reuters: Is there anything else you want to talk
Mitchell: I want to talk about DLA Piper a little bit. I'm
surprisingly better known in the UK and parts of Europe than I
am here because of my experience in Northern Ireland. Our
largest office is in London. I expect to spend a good deal of
time there. I didn't know if I would come back [to the firm
after serving as Middle East envoy]. I didn't know what would
happen. There were no commitments. I knew that if they wanted
me to come back I would consider it.
Reuters: Are you going to be full time?
Mitchell: Oh yes. I come in everyday. I'll take my family
to Maine in a couple of weeks, so I'll work out of there and
travel back and forth in the summer.
Reuters: Do you have a work-life balance? Do you do fun
Mitchell: Oh yes, of course. I've got two young kids. You
have to be involved.