Wed, Jun 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

British papers say Blair to become Middle East envoy

AGENCIES , LONDON

Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair is to be made an international Middle East peace envoy, responsible for preparing negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, British press reports said yesterday.

The role for the 54-year-old British leader, who is due to step down as prime minister today, was to be announced later yesterday following a meeting by the Middle East quartet in Jerusalem, the Guardian and the Times newspapers said.

His role would involve working with the Palestinians over security, economy and governance. He would be working from an office in Jerusalem -- and possibly another in the West Bank -- as the special representative for the Middle East quartet of the UN, EU, US and Russia.

The arrangement, which has been prepared for weeks, was due to be agreed at a meeting of the quartet yesterday, the Guardian said.

The idea of Blair doing this job is understood to have originated with the prime minister himself in conversation with US President George W Bush, who then suggested it to the UN.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is said to be a keen supporter and Washington was reported on Monday night to have mounted "an enormous push" to ensure Blair got the post, the Guardian said.

However, reports have also said that Russia, and to an extent also fellow-members of the EU, were skeptical about the job for Blair, considering his record as a staunch supporter of US policy in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

At times he has had to bend with a US willingness to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, while ignoring the plight of 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Blair has constantly pressed Bush to take a more active role in securing a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Though his standing in the so-called Arab street may be low because of his role in the invasion of Iraq, he is held in high regard among Arab political elites and has frequently spoken of his passion to play a part in helping to secure peace in the Middle East.

It was being stressed last night that Blair's role -- in the short term at least -- would not be to act as a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or to become a negotiator for the roadmap to peace. He might, however, be responsible for trying to persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for ending the international boycott of Hamas.

Blair said yesterday he was ready to help bring about a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

"I think that anybody who cares about greater peace and stability in the world knows that a lasting and enduring resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is essential," Blair told reporters. "And I will do whatever I can to help such a resolution come about," he said.

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