U.S. presses Blair to be Mideast envoy

By Xinhua

Washington : The United States is pressing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to become a special envoy to the Middle East, representing the quartet, or the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing administration officials.

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    Blair is expected to leave office next Wednesday and the proposal is endorsed by U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

    The appointment would be the most visible attempt at laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state since former U.S. president Bill Clinton wrangled with Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak during the waning hours of his administration in 2001, the report said.

    The proposal shows the renewed urgency in dealing with the changed political landscape brought on by the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the report said.

    However, American and European officials said that so far, the only discontent about the possible Blair appointment has come from Russia, which has had contentious relations with Britain, the report said.

    Neither the White House nor the State Department confirmed the possible Blair appointment at Wednesday's briefings.

    James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, stepped down as the Quartet's Middle East special envoy more than a year ago.