Blair named Middle East envoy

Former UK prime minister is appointed representative for diplomatic quartet.

     Blair, right, was replaced by Brown as
    prime minister on Wednesday [AFP]
    Two-state solution

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    Blair was replaced on Wednesday by Gordon Brown, the finance minister, after 10 years in the position.
    In his last appearance before parliament as prime minister, Blair told politicians a viable two-state solution in the Middle East is "possible... but it will require a huge intensity of focus and work".

    A spokesman for Blair said the former prime minister had telephoned Vladmir Putin, Russia's president, late on Tuesday in an attempt to calm his concerns about him becoming the envoy.


    Relations between Russia and Britain had been soured by London charging Andrei Lugovoi, a former Soviet-era spy, with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, another ex-KGB officer who had been a severe critic of Putin.

    But Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said on Wednesday that his government backed Blair.


    International reaction


    Blair's appointment was welcomed by figures in the US, Israel and Palestine.


    George Bush, the US president, said: "I am pleased that this capable man has agreed to continue his work for peace in the Middle East."


    "Tony will help Palestinians develop the political and economic institutions they will need for a democratic, sovereign state able to provide for its people and live in peace and security with Israel."

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    Mark Regev, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said: "Tony Blair is a friend of Israel, a friend of the Palestinians and above all a friend of peace.


    We are delighted with the idea of working with him."


    Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, expressed satisfaction at the decision.


    Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said: "President Abbas welcomes the nomination of Mr Blair as envoy of  the Quartet.


    "The president, who was consulted on the matter, has given the assurance that he will work with Mr Blair to arrive at a peaceful solution on the basis of two states."

    Tough task

    David Chater, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jerusalem, said on Tuesday:  "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."

    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 had been considered by many Arabs as a mark against his candidacy for the post.

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

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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