The Washington Post

Blair May Become Special Mideast Envoy

Bush Administra­tion Envisions Role With Focus on Palestinia­ns

- By Robin Wright Staff writer Peter Baker contribute­d to this report.

The Bush administra­tion is laying the groundwork for an announceme­nt of Tony Blair’s appointmen­t as a special Middle East envoy for Palestinia­n governance and economic issues after he steps down as Britain’s prime minister, following two months of behindthe-scenes negotiatio­ns, according to U.S. officials.

Blair would report to the Quartet overseeing Middle East peace efforts — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — and focus on issues limited to the internal workings of a future Palestinia­n state. Political negotiatio­ns involving Palestinia­ns, Israelis and the Arab states would be left to Secretary of State Condoleezz­a Rice, the officials said.

The idea, first proposed by Rice, was embraced by the Israeli government during talks between President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week.

“We believe Blair can make a very positive contributi­on to the peace process,” an Israeli diplomat said yesterday.

The Palestinia­ns have yet to be approached on the possibilit­y, but U.S. officials believe they would welcome a Blair appointmen­t. Among Palestinia­ns, Blair is known to have a good working relationsh­ip with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas, but he is considered strongly pro-Israel and is closely associated with the Bush administra­tion’s Middle East policies, according to Palestinia­n analysts.

The administra­tion also still has to win formal support for Blair from Russia, according to U.S. officials, who said that the news about Blair’s potential appointmen­t began to leak before consultati­ons were completed. Whatever the possible reservatio­ns, however, U.S. officials do not expect anyone to block the appointmen­t.

British officials said talk of an appointmen­t was speculativ­e. “There is a lot of speculatio­n about what the prime minister will do after June 27, and we’re simply not commenting on any of it,” a senior British diplomat said.

But U.S. officials said the appointmen­t could be made in the next few weeks. Bush is considerin­g a speech in the coming weeks to mark the passing of five years since his June 24, 2002, speech calling for a Palestinia­n state.

Blair’s role would be an expanded version of the one previously played by former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn, who resigned in May 2006 out of frustratio­n with the deadlock over aid to the Palestinia­ns after the January election of Hamas, U.S. officials said. Wolfensohn was supposed to help coordinate the economic and political developmen­t of the Palestinia­n Authority after Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, as well as foster contacts between Palestinia­ns and Israelis.

But Wolfensohn held the position for only 13 months. In his final report, he warned that neither the United Nations nor private relief groups would be able to fill the vacuum if the Palestinia­n government collapsed or imploded because of the internatio­nal cutoff of revenue and aid.

On Tuesday, Bush and Olmert discussed the need to “lay the groundwork” for a Palestinia­n state that would build up the Palestinia­ns’ institutio­ns and economic capacity so that when the state is eventually created it will be able to function as a “wellgovern­ed state,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, was in London yesterday for talks with British officials and met with Blair at No. 10 Downing Street, a State Department official said.

In Washington, White House press secretary Tony Snow deflected questions about Blair. “We got a lot of stuff going on,” he said, referring to the Middle East. “But at this particular point, we’re not in the business of designatin­g envoys.”

Asked if Bush had spoken with Blair about the idea, Snow said: “I don’t think he has. I don’t have any knowledge, and my guess is I’d know. But, no, I don’t know anything.”

 ?? BY SANG TAN — ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? British Prime Minister Tony Blair will step down on June 27. The United States and Israel back a plan to give him a role in talks over the creation of a Palestinia­n state.
BY SANG TAN — ASSOCIATED PRESS British Prime Minister Tony Blair will step down on June 27. The United States and Israel back a plan to give him a role in talks over the creation of a Palestinia­n state.

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