- Title: MIDDLE EAST: Tony Blair sees possibilities in Mideast mission
- Date: 24th July 2007
- Summary: EXTERIOR OF COUNCIL OF MINISTERS
- Embargoed: 8th August 2007 13:00
- Reuters ID: LVA4Q0I9QFENIT90RC4WS0DCSYWN
- Story Text: Tony Blair said on Tuesday (July 24) there was a new "moment of opportunity" in the Middle East but cautioned in his first visit as an international envoy against expecting any peace breakthrough soon.
The Quartet of peace brokers -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- has asked the British former prime minister to present in September an initial plan for building ruling institutions for a future Palestinian state.
Blair, in his first public remarks since starting his mission on Monday, said he came "to listen and to learn and to reflect" in preliminary talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Blair met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, whose secular Fatah faction lost control of Gaza to Hamas Islamists in fighting last month, a development that has led Israel and the West to redouble their efforts to bolster the moderate leader.
He went on to meet Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and will end the day with a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before flying out on Wednesday (July 25).
"I think there is a sense of possibility at the moment. I think this is a moment of opportunity," he told reporters after meeting Fayyad.
Fayyad himself said he thought Blair could make a difference.
"Today, the discussion we had both here with the cabinet, as well as in the president's office confirmed us in the view that Mr. Blair is uniquely positioned to help us move forward," he said.
Diplomats say Blair's limited mandate could expand later into a more direct peacemaking role, an idea backed by Abbas's aides. Many Israeli officials are cool to the prospect.
Hamas, which has spurned international demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace agreements, has said Blair must deal with the Islamic movement and avoid "double standards". Blair shunned the group during the visit.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, another Abbas aide, said the Palestinians hoped to take advantage of Blair's personal relationship with U.S. and Israeli leaders.
Blair was due to wrap up the visit to Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and then travel to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. He plans to return to the region for the first half of September, before a Quartet meeting followed by a Middle East conference organised by U.S. President George W.
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