(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush has talked with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about becoming the Quartet's Middle East peace envoy after he leaves office next week.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates, the White House and State Department spoke glowingly of Blair's credentials on Wednesday but said there was nothing to announce yet. Blair steps down next Wednesday.
"Obviously Prime Minister Blair has been very active and deeply involved in Middle East peace issues throughout his prime ministership," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. She said Blair and Bush speak often.
"It would not surprise me if they have talked about what Prime Minister Blair would like to do following the end of his term... but we don't have anything to announce today," Perino said.
Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, the State Department's top diplomat for the Middle East, is in London and met with Blair this week. Al-Jazeera International broke the story that Welch raised the subject in the meeting and that there were intense negotiations between the US and London over the appointment.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Blair "is a person of great abilities and obviously somebody with great interest in the region and has made great contributions to the region."
James Wolfensohn, a former president of the World Bank, stepped down in April as international Mideast envoy for the Quartet of peacemakers - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia. The position envisioned for Blair was said to be enhanced in contrast to Wolfensohn's role. Members of the Quartet may meet in Paris next week.
Blair's office declined to comment. "There is a lot of speculation about what the prime minister will do after June 27, but we are simply not going to comment," said a spokeswoman at his Downing Street office.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed support for Blair continuing to play a role in efforts to bring about Mideast peace.
"Officials in the Prime Minister's Office are aware of this idea, and Prime Minister Olmert is very supportive of Prime Minister Blair and of his continuing involvement in the Middle East and the Peace Process," Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokeswoman, said.
Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) said he would welcome the appointment. He said Blair had proven his friendship with Israel and that if he maintained his positions, he would be a fair and balanced mediator.
"Only someone with his prestige and experience can revive hope for peace in the Middle East," Shalom said.
Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said the Middle East needed a new envoy, but only one who would be willing to work full-time. He said Blair had made promises in the past to devote all his time to efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East and nothing came of it.
"If there is a new Middle East envoy, whoever it is, it might help a lot, because we need someone on the ground and we haven't had one in a long time," Beilin said. "We need someone who can shuttle back and forth and always be available. It would be better for him to live in Cyprus, not London. It has to be a full-time job, because many of our problems are based on misunderstandings that only a full-time person could prevent."
Labor MK Colette Avital, who heads her party's international department, said the appointment would be a positive sign that the Middle East peace process would be given new energy.
"I hope he will deal with the Middle East intensively, because we need all the help we can get," she said.
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