Blair Will Be Named Special Mideast Envoy

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 said.

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.

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, the official said.

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.

In Moscow, the Kremlin released a statement saying Blair called President Vladimir Putin, and Putin gave his blessing to Blair's becoming the Quartet's special envoy.

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.