Blair in J'lem ahead of upcoming Quartet meeting

Netanyahu tells visiting US senators that West should support anti-regime protesters in Iran, as it does in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Tony Blair at IDC (photo credit: Itzik Edri)
Tony Blair at IDC
(photo credit: Itzik Edri)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Monday, amid hesitation in Jerusalem about sending Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu’s chief envoy in talks with the Palestinians, for meetings with Quartet representatives next month.
The Quartet, at a meeting earlier this month, announced that it would meet at the “level of principals in mid-March” on ways to move the negotiations forward. “In advance, and as a matter of priority, it will seek via its envoys to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Brussels,” the statement said. The Quartet is made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN.
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UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry told journalists in New York last week that separate meetings by the Quartet with representatives from the parties was “something new,” and that confirmation of a meeting in Brussels this week from both sides was being sought.
Israel has historically been extremely reticent to take part in meetings of this nature, preferring instead to let the US alone deal with the nitty-gritty of the negotiations.
The meeting of the Quartet principals – meaning US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – is likely to take place in mid- March on the sidelines of an international meeting in Paris. Ashton said some two weeks ago in a meeting with journalists in Jerusalem that the Quartet meeting was meant to give the sides a “sense of urgency” in moving the diplomatic process forward.
While the Quartet was keen on giving a sense of urgency to the diplomatic process, Netanyahu – in a meeting on Sunday with a congressional delegation led by Republican senators James Inhofe from Oklahoma and John Boozman from Arkansas – stressed the importance now of focusing on Iran.
Discussing the rapid change sweeping across the Middle East, Netanyahu told the delegation that the West must ensure that this “wave of democracy” doesn’t pass over Iran, and that the international community should be supporting the protesters in Iran to the same degree that they did in Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya.
The current situation is providing Iran with numerous opportunities to extend their reach and exploit the changes taking place for their own benefit, and therefore – he said – it was more important than ever for the international community to be tough with Tehran.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, meanwhile, left on Sunday for meetings with senior EU officials in Brussels carrying a similar message: that it is critical at this time to prevent radical forces in the region from taking advantage of the unrest in the Arab world, and that even with the swiftly unfolding events it is necessary to focus on stopping Iranian nuclearization.
In a related diplomatic development, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi arrived on Sunday for two days of talks, and met Netanyahu soon after his arrival.
Romania is among the states more supportive of Israel inside the EU, and defense ties between the two countries have grown significantly in recent years. Last year, six Israelis and one Romanian were killed in a helicopter accident during a joint military exercise in Romania.
Baconschi was scheduled to meet on Monday with President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, opposition head Tzipi Livni and members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
El Salvador’s Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez was also scheduled to arrive on Monday, for a three-day visit, his first since taking office some 20 months ago.
El Salvador is one of the few Latin American nations, along with Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Belize, that have not given an indication whether they would recognize a Palestinian state. While Colombia said it would not recognize a Palestinian state until a mutual peace agreement is reached, the rest of Central and South America has either already recognized Palestinian statehood, or indicated they would do so soon.