Blair set for Middle East role

British prime minister hands over power as Quartet discusses peace envoy position.

    Gordon Brown, left, will replace Tony Blair
    as prime minister on Wednesday [AFP]
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    A US official who asked not to be named told the Reuters news agency that Blair was expected to be named as early as Wednesday .

    "It is in the final stages of consultation all around," he said.

    But a spokesman for Blair's Downing Street office said: "It is by no means a done deal yet."

    When asked if Blair was about to be named as the Quartet's envoy, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, told reporters: "Stay tuned".

    "I certainly hope that this role is going to be filled because I think it is very important," Rice said.

    Final day

    Blair is being replaced by Gordon Brown, the finance minister, on Wednesday after 10 years in the position.

    Blair will answer questions from MPs in parliament for the final time, before heading to Buckingham Palace to officially tender his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II. Brown will then visit the monarch to be appointed prime minister.

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    At his final news conference as British leader on Tuesday, Blair said 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 said.

    Israeli and Palestinian officials have welcomed the potential appointment.


    Tzipi Livni, Israel's foreign minister, said on Tuesday that Blair was a "very well appreciated figure in Israel" while Ehud Olmert, her prime minister, called him "a true friend" of Israel and promised full co-operation if he took the job.


    Salam Fayyad, the newly appointed Palestinian prime minister, said: ''We hope this appointment will speed efforts to resume the political process to achieve the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."


    Difficult job

    David Chater, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said on Tuesday that Blair seemed set to take a position that has been largely vacant since Hamas took power in Palestinian elections early last year.

    "Tony Blair is being fitted up for a job that is a very difficult one, because unlike the previous occupant of the post he faces not only a geographic split between the West Bank and Gaza but also a political one," he said.

    Hamas seized full control of Gaza two weeks ago prompting Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to form an emergency cabinet drawn from Fatah and independent politicians, ignoring Hamas representation.

    Chater said Blair has several skills that give him an advantage for the job of Middle East envoy.

    "His micromanagement skills in finding a resolution to what was seen as an intractable situation in Northern Ireland will aid him greatly in this task." 

    But Chater said Blair's support for the US administration's Middle East policy is considered by many Arabs as a mark against his candidacy for the post.

    Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, is also said to be opposed to Blair's appointment.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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