Tue, Jul 24, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Blair starts maiden tour as peace envoy

MIDDLE EAST MANDATE The former British prime minister began a three-day trip to see officials in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, but he won't be seeing Hamas officials

AFP , AMMAN

Former British prime minister Tony Blair arrived yesterday in Jordan on the start of his maiden voyage to the Middle East as special envoy for the peace Quartet, Jordanian foreign ministry officials said.

Blair was starting a three-day visit that will also take him to Israel and the West Bank. His mandate is limited to seeking to improve the lot of the Palestinian people.

He immediately headed for talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel Ilah Khatib on reactivating the peace process, the officials said.

He was later due to continue on to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Blair's spokesman Matthew Doyle said by telephone after landing in Amman that Blair would hold talks later yesterday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

He is due to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas today.

Blair who was appointed to the job last month plans to be "very much in listening mode" on his first visit to the Middle East, his spokesman said.

Asked if Blair expected to see any officials from Hamas, Doyle replied: "No."

Under the terms of his mandate, Blair is not authorized to talk to Hamas, which the US lists as a terrorist organization.

His appointment late last month was hailed by Israel and some Palestinians close to the moderate Abbas, but blasted by Hamas, which sees him as too close to both Israel and the US.

The Quartet is made up of the EU, Russia, the UN and the US and since 2003 has tried to implement a "roadmap" for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The last Quartet envoy, former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn stood down in frustration in May last year.

In appointing Blair special envoy, the Quartet said he would "help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians, a robust economy, and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people."

Israeli media yesterday quoted sources in the foreign ministry and the prime minister's office as saying that officials of the Jewish state will insist that Blair stick to his mandate.

"For their meeting with Blair, Israeli officials plan to send the Quartet envoy two main messages," Haaretz wrote. "The first is that Israel welcomes the former British prime minister in his new role.

"The second is that in the medium and distant future, Israel will work to ensure that Blair will not stray from his mandate, namely the creation of Palestinian institutions of governance," the liberal newspaper said.

"We hope Blair does not deviate from his mandate by engaging in political issues," the tabloid Maariv quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.

Blair is also expected to visit some Gulf countries after his tour.

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