Trust fund

Tony Blair's seemless transition from prime minister to special representative for the Quartet last month was accompanied by raised eyebrows at the UN and within the British foreign office.

It also provoked outright hostility from the Russians.
 
Now, senior UN and British officials have told Al Jazeera that the US state department has been paying Mr Blair's bills, either directly or indirectly, via a trust fund. The amount remains undisclosed.

Marie Okabe, a UN spokeswoman, said: "I don't think I can get into the legal position of the Quartet but as you know the UN is one of the four members of the Quartet, Tony Blair is representative of the Quartet, I think the question of resources for him, his staffing, that kind of thing, is an issue that is under discussion."

Meanwhile, Blair's office said: "These issues are still being discussed. Our focus has been on Tony Blair's trips and getting the office up and running in September.

US puppet

Discussions may well be taking place within the Quartet, with a view to sharing the expense of Tony Blair and his offices, likely to be situated in London and Jerusalem.

But for some, the involvement of the state department puts Mr Blair too close to the US administration and confuses the role of the Quartet.

And that's hardly the image Tony Blair wants to project

Although there are some who argue that Tony Blair's close relationship with Bush could be beneficial to the Palestinians, there are others who believe that Tony Blair has seriously compromised himself.

They say: 'he who pays the piper, plays the tune'.

US denial

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said: "Tony Blair is close to Washington, he has always argued that being close to Washington is the way to get some thing from Washington.

"The onus will be on him to deliver, to be able to move the Bush administration, move the Israelis, so that they can come together and make the deal with the Palestinians that he is trying to make."

In a statement on Friday, Karl Duckworth, a US state department spokesman, said: "Neither the US government nor the Quartet pay a salary to Quartet representative Tony Blair.

"We are working out the details of funding and support with our Quartet partners for Blair's staff as well as the costs associated with their mission."   

As the controversy continues, and as if bridging the divide between the various actors on the Middle East stage was not hard enough, Tony Blair may now have to go out of his way just to prove that he does represent all the Quartet members, not just the US.

A long hot summer of negotiations beckons.