Blair Urges Obama to Press Hard for Progress in Mideast Talks

Ex-British PM says he's certain Obama will employ requisite urgency and determination in dealing with issue.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, offered praise Wednesday for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's selections to lead his national security team, and he expressed hope that Obama's administration will press hard and immediately for progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Blair, the envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators, told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations that the time was right for a fresh push for progress. "Much will be riding on what Obama does," Blair said.

"What the president-elect has put together is a very, very strong team; not just with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, but also retired Gen. James L. Jones as Obama's national security adviser," Blair said.

Noting that he has worked with Jones in the retired Marine's role as U.S. special envoy for Middle East security, Blair said Jones is someone who understands the situation very well.

"What I'm saying is, I think there is a consensus now among the international community - not just America, but everyone - on how to deal with this," Blair said, referring to the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The question is now, what people will watch for: Is it taken forward with the requisite urgency and determination? I have every confidence that it will be," Blair said.

Obama has pledged to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from his first day in office. He has called for a sustained push to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, that can exist in peace and security.