Blair’s appointment as Quartet special envoy delayed in Jerusalem meeting

By Xinhua

Jerusalem : Russian reservations have helped delay on Tuesday the appointment of outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as special envoy for the Mideast Quartet, local Ha'aretz reported after the Quartet envoys finished their meeting without any statement.

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The envoys of the Quartet, grouping the United States, the UN, European Union and Russia, left without speaking to the press, and details on the talks weren't immediately available, said the daily.

Yet they are expected to hold an additional round of consultations on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning in an attempt to reach an agreement, the report said.

Earlier, British press said Tuesday's meeting in the Israeli capital was likely to announce Blair, who will step down on Wednesday and be replaced by Gordon Brown, as special Mideast envoy.

"Blair's appointment has been 150 percent approved," the Financial Times quoted a figure close to negotiations over Blair's new role as saying.

"The Jerusalem meeting is all about arranging logistics, making final arrangements and getting the announcement out," said the daily.

Another popular daily The Guardian said Blair might be placed in charge of persuading Hamas to accept the three international requirements, which include recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous agreements with Israel.

In London, Blair himself didn't make any comment over the report, yet saying that he was ready to contribute to the solution of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"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 said.

"As I have said on many occasions, I would do whatever I could to help such a resolution come about," Blair said at a joint press conference with visiting California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in London.


The three-hour meeting was held behind closed doors at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, with attendance of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, EU envoy Marc Otte, Russia's Sergei Yakovlev and UN envoy Michael Williams.

Brenden Varma, a UN spokesman in Jerusalem, told Xinhua that there was no press release or statement issued after the Quartet envoy meeting.

Before the meeting, he said that the envoys had no set agenda and would discuss recent developments about the Palestinian issue and the way forward.

It was the first meeting for the Quartet, a major mediator between the Palestinians and Israel, since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip on June 14 after days of deadly infighting with its rival Fatah movement led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Even though this is an internal high level working committee, the timing of the meeting causes excitement," an official with the U.S. consulate told Xinhua while the envoys were having meeting behind the closed door.

"The envoys met in order to look for ways to assist restarting the (peace) process in the area and to consolidate the principals for a future agreement," the official added.

A senior EU diplomat told Xinhua in a telephone interview that the meeting was held in order to exchange information and to discuss the current situation in the Middle East in the light of the latest developments in the region.

The Quartet meeting came one day after the Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders held a summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, which produced no significant result.

Following the bloody infighting between Hamas and Fatah, the geographically-divided Palestinian territories is now politically split into two parts — with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah holding the West Bank.