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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama calls critically ill diplomat Richard Holbrooke “a towering figure in American foreign policy” and says he is praying for his recovery.

Holbrooke, the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is at a Washington hospital after undergoing surgery Saturday on a torn aorta.

Obama in a statement Saturday night said he had spoken with Holbrooke’s wife and told her that he and First Lady Michelle Obama are praying for him. Obama called Holbrooke a critical member of the administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan team, and “a tireless public servant.”

Holbrooke’s family has been with the diplomat. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also has visited at the George Washington University Hospital.

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