NPR logo Blair Tapped for Mideast Envoy Post: U.S. Official


Blair Tapped for Mideast Envoy Post: U.S. Official

Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to be named Wednesday as special envoy for the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East and will focus on Palestinian economic and political reform, a senior U.S. official said.

The Quartet — comprised of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia — will announce that Blair has agreed to take the job in simultaneous statements from their capitals and New York, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. official, who insisted on anonymity because the statements are still being drafted, spoke after being briefed on a meeting of Quartet representatives Tuesday in Jerusalem.

Blair's new job will deal primarily with helping the Palestinian Authority build political institutions and will not, at least at first, involve direct mediation or negotiation between the Palestinians and Israelis, the official said, noting that the quartet itself "retains the right to be the interlocutor between the Israelis and Palestinians."

Blair is due to step down as Prime Minister on Wednesday.

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey would not discuss the prospects of Blair being named the group's envoy, but said the meeting in Jerusalem had included a discussion about such a post and what its duties might be.

"They have talked about the idea of having an envoy, having someone who would be available on behalf of the quartet to work on a variety of issues, including efforts to help support the development of Palestinian Authority institutions," Casey told reporters.

The senior U.S. official said the quartet had agreed on a job description for the special envoy position that Blair will assume shortly after leaving office on Wednesday, disputing reports in the Israeli media that Russia was holding up an official announcement.

"The Russians are the least enthusiastic about creating the position and least enthusiastic about Blair, but they didn't object," the official said. "No one objected."

The post is expected to be unpaid but will come with staff and logistical support from the quartet, as did a previous similar position held by former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, who had a narrower job description.

"The job is not just about economics, but it should not be mistaken as a mediator or negotiator," the official said.

The official said that after the quartet announcement, President Bush would likely address Blair's appointment at a speech he is to give at a mosque and Islamic center in Washington.

From The Associated Press