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Mixed response to Tony Blair as special envoy for Middle East

Despite differences, everyone agrees the job he faces is a tough one.

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The tapping of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who stepped down from his post on Tuesday, as special envoy for the Middle East has generated mixed emotions from the Middle East and observers.

The Associated Press said that his role in helping to bring about peace in Northern Ireland will give him credibility in the new job. But the AP also says that his job will not be focused on prodding Israel and Palestinians to the negotiating table, at least not at first.

"Blair's new job will deal primarily with helping the Palestinian Authority build political institutions. It won't, at least at first, involve direct mediation or negotiation between Palestinians and Israelis, the senior U.S. official said.
But Blair is one of the rare world leaders who is considered a friend by both the Israeli and Palestinian governments."

The major outside players working on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the so-called Quartet of the United Nations, United States, Russia, and the European Union, are now behind the appointment. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the EU and Russia held up the appointment on Tuesday -- Russia because Blair is seen as too close to the US, and the Europeans over concern his role would marginalize EU foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana -- but the paper now says those concerns have been set aside.

The Quartet has concluded the elaboration of a mandate for the new representative," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "I understand that the decision is about to be announced," Lavrov said.
Blair said his priority in the role would be to effect the current international consensus that a two-state solution is vital to peace in the Middle East.

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