|US to keep Blair out of Middle East, told he has no authority |
Fri, 20 Jul 2007
|Tony Blair was told by the United States yesterday that he had no authority to tackle political negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians as he spent his first full day as special envoy to the Middle East.|
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, insisted that America would retain leadership of the "political track" while Mr Blair would work on raising funds for the Palestinians, as well as building their economy and infrastructure.
It was the clearest account yet of the former prime minister's role in the Middle East on behalf of the international Quartet - the European Union, United Nations, the United States and Russia. He will be more an envoy to the Palestinians than a peace envoy.
"I think his mandate was made clear by the Quartet when they issued the statement," said Miss Rice.
"There is also a political track that for a variety of reasons the United States is committed to lead in co-ordination with the Quartet."
Mr Blair's role "is something that is completely complementary and if we all work together, and there is plenty to do, perhaps we can finally deliver," she said.
While she couched her comments amid lavish praise for Mr Blair, it amounted to a diplomatic snub after his representatives had earlier made clear he wanted to play a key role in peace negotiations.
Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, who is understood to have been put out by Mr Blair's appointment, backed Miss Rice, saying Mr Blair's mandate is to "build the Palestinian institutions".
Miss Rice was speaking before Mr Blair attended his first full meeting of the Quartet in Lisbon.
"I know that Tony Blair is an experienced, capable, historic figure and he's going to bring an energy to the international commitment to a Palestinian state that is capable for its own people," she told Sky News. "There is a very good sense that his dedication now to helping the Palestinians build the institutions of statehood, to move forward on economic development and to press forward on helping to create a strong Palestinian partner is very well timed as we try to move forward toward the establishment of a state."
At the meeting in Lisbon, the Quartet reiterated its policy of refusing to deal with the elected Hamas-controlled Palestinian government on the grounds that Hamas is a terrorist group.
Instead, the Quartet gave its backing to Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian National Authority, and the emergency, Fatah-run government that he set up last month, even though Palestinian legal experts have described the new administration as unconstitutional.
The next Palestinian crisis was already brewing last night as the ruling council of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the Fatah-controlled body, backed Mr Abbas's plan for fresh Palestinian elections.
Hamas, elected in January 2006, will reject any new election and a surge in political violence can be expected.
Mr Blair is to visit the Holy Land next week.
He will meet Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, in Jerusalem before meeting Mr Abbas and his new government in Ramallah.