Top US official to head Blair's Jerusalem mission

In an effort to upgrade US involvement in the work of the Quartet's Mideast envoy Tony Blair, Washington has sent senior State Department official Robert Danin to work for the former British prime minister in Jerusalem. A spokesman for Blair said Sunday that Danin - who is US deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs - would head Blair's Jerusalem mission. Danin succeeds Donald Bandler, a low-key, retired US diplomat who held the job on an interim basis for less than a year. "Rob Danin brings great experience and understanding to the job and Tony Blair is delighted he has agreed to come on board at this critical time in helping the Palestinians to prepare for statehood as part of the international community's effort to secure peace," the spokesman said. US President George W. Bush's decision to send Danin to Jerusalem is seen as a gesture of support to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who visited Washington last week. It is also part of intensified efforts by Washington to revitalize the shattered Palestinian economy. Danin "will lead the Blair mission's effort on the ground to support the Palestinian Authority in improving the livelihood of its people in the West Bank and Gaza," according to a memo from Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, the top US diplomat for the Middle East. Portions of the memo were read to The Associated Press last week by an official who received it. Danin met late last Monday with Blair, who was in Washington to accept an award, officials said. Blair is leading an international effort to develop the Palestinian economy.