Quartet Split Over Blair Appointment

The Quartet representatives were unable yesterday to reach agreement on the mandate for outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair when he takes up his new post as the Quartet's special envoy for the Middle East peace process. UN representative Michael Williams, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Yakovlev, European Union representative Mark Otte and U.S. assistant secretary of state David Welch met yesterday for three hours in Jerusalem, mostly focusing on the Blair appointment. Officials in Jerusalem said there were disagreements between the U.S. and the UN, which approve of the appointment, and Russia and the EU, who object. The Russians see the appointment as appeasing the Americans, and the Europeans are concerned over possible damage to their status in the peace process.

Diplomatic sources said the EU is particularly worried about the position of Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy coordinator.

A senior Russian official said yesterday, "If the Europeans agree, we will have no problems."

The parties agreed yesterday that Blair's job would be technical, focusing on building governing institutions in the Palestinian Authority, restoring its security forces and assisting the PA finance ministry to develop the economy. The Quartet wants Blair to operate according to the model of the previous envoy, James Wolfensohn, who coordinated economic and civil matters between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip before the disengagement. Wolfensohn decided to step down because of the anarchy in the strip following the withdrawal, as well as Israel's lack of cooperation.

The issues are to be discussed today at the level of foreign ministers to try to bridge the gaps. Israeli officials said agreement and an announcement of the appointment are expected today, although the problem of the powers that would come with the position still had to be ironed out.