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Selection of Tony Blair as Mideast Envoy Draws Mixed Reaction

28 June 2007

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will likely head to the Middle East next month in his role as newly appointed international peace envoy. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London that Mr. Blair's appointment has drawn very mixed reactions.

Just a day after he stepped down as prime minister, Tony Blair is making plans to travel to the Middle East in his new job as representative of the so-called Quartet group, made up of the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia. His overall job will be to prepare the ground for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Blair has described the job as a "huge challenge." In his last appearance in the House of Commons Wednesday, Mr. Blair spoke about what needs to happen in the region.

"The absolute priority is to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is a two-state solution, which means a state of Israel that is secure and confident in its security and a Palestinian state not merely viable in terms of territory, but in terms of its institutions and governance," he said. "I believe it is possible to do that, but it will require a huge intensity of focus and work."

Mr. Blair's appointment as envoy has received mixed reviews. There has been a hearty welcome from Washington and approving nods from Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the appointment as did Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. But, the militant group Hamas, which has taken control of the Gaza Strip, rejected Mr. Blair as an honest broker, saying he is too close to U.S. President George Bush.

Mr. Blair's closeness to the White House and his steadfast support for the war in Iraq have made him a target for harsh criticism throughout the region and many doubt his ability to act independently.

A Blair biographer, Professor Anthony Seldon of London's Wellington College, believes Mr. Blair's impact will be minimal.

"He's obviously very interested in trying to bring about a peace between Israel and Palestine, but the reality is that he could not do it when he was the second most powerful man in the world and I do not think he will be able to achieve very much at all when he is just an ordinary person," he noted.

Professor Seldon believes that what is needed to restart any real peace process will be sufficient political will in Washington.

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