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(photo credit: AP)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says former British prime minister Tony Blair is going to play a bigger role in efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks, by intensifying his partnership with special US Mideast envoy George Mitchell.
In a written statement, Clinton said she had spoken to Blair on Thursday about developments in the region. As a result of that phone call, she said Blair would broaden his current role as representative of the Quartet to “intensify his partnership” with Mitchell in support of the attempt to revive political negotiations.
The Quartet is scheduled to hold a high-level meeting in Moscow toward the end of the month.
Blair’s spokesman, Matthew Doyle, said the former prime minister would “deepen his partnership with Senator Mitchell” in support of the political negotiations, but provided no details. The spokesman also said that while the Quartet had made “real progress” on the West Bank, a new strategy was needed for Gaza.
Israeli government sources said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu holds Blair in the “highest regard.”
“The prime minister has the highest respect for Blair, and has worked with him together over the last year in efforts to strengthen the Palestinian economy,” the official said, adding that Israel was looking forward to continued cooperation with Blair. Until now he has confined his activities to building support for the Palestinian Authority. He had not served as a mediator or negotiator.
Blair took his position as leader of the Quartet – comprising the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – in June 2007.
Clinton’s statement also did not say how Blair would partner with Mitchell in the effort to revive peace talks and Clinton aides said they did not immediately have details.
The failure to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the bargaining
table has been one of the major foreign policy disappointments of the
first year of the Obama administration.
The prospect for bringing the Palestinians and Israelis back to the
negotiating table, following a break-off in late 2008, is expected to
be among the subjects Clinton discusses during a visit this weekend and
next week to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Prior to Clinton’s trip, Netanyahu phoned her on Friday to discuss both
how to move the diplomatic process forward and the current
international efforts aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
According to a statement released by Netanyahu’s office, the prime
minister also sent his best wishes to Bill Clinton, who underwent a
heart procedure Thursday to fix a blocked artery.