WASHINGTON – Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be named on Wednesday as special envoy for the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East with a portfolio focused on Palestinian economic and political reform, a senior U.S. official said.
Members of the Quartet, the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, will give their public blessing to the post and announce that Blair has agreed to take the job in simultaneous statements from Washington, New York, Brussels and Moscow, the official told The Associated Press.
The official, who insisted on anonymity because the statements are still being drafted, spoke after being briefed on a meeting of quartet representatives held earlier Tuesday in Jerusalem.
Three U.S. officials said Monday that discussions on naming Blair to the post had been completed and the issue was on the Quartet's Tuesday agenda.
Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey would not discuss the prospects of Blair being named the group's envoy, but said the meeting in Jerusalem had included a discussion about the post and what its duties might be and that a statement was expected on Wednesday.
"They have talked about the idea ... of having an envoy, having someone who would be available on behalf of the quartet to work on a variety of issues, including efforts to help support the development of Palestinian Authority institutions," Casey told reporters.
The senior U.S. official said the quartet had agreed on a job description for the special envoy position that Blair will assume shortly after leaving office on Wednesday, the senior official said, disputing reports in the Israeli media that Russia was holding up an official announcement.
"The Russians are the least enthusiastic about creating the position and least enthusiastic about Blair, but they didn't object," the official said. "No one objected."
The Russian delegation did not object to Blair or the expanded role of the envoy position, but had not received instructions from Moscow on how to proceed, according to the official.
So, the job description and statement on Blair were agreed to "ad referendum," which means the matter is settled but that all parties reserve the right to make minor changes to the documents, the official said.
Blair's new job will deal primarily with helping the Palestinian Authority build political institutions and will not, at least at first, involve direct mediation or negotiation between the Palestinians and Israelis, the official said. The official noted that the quartet itself "retains the right to be the interlocutor between the Israelis and Palestinians."
The post is expected to be unpaid but will come with staff and logistical support from the quartet, as did a previous similar position held by former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, who had a narrower job description.
Blair's portfolio will be broader than that of Wolfensohn, who dealt mainly with economic issues related to the Gaza Strip, which is now in the hands of the militant Hamas movement, the official said.
"The job is not just about economics, but it should not be mistaken as a mediator or negotiator," the official said.
Blair will be helping develop economic support and reform for Palestinian institutions as well as looking at rule of law questions, particularly in light of the split in the Palestinian government, the official said.
The official said that after the quartet announcement, President Bush would likely address Blair's appointment at a speech he is to give at a mosque and Islamic center in Washington.