Blair starts first visit as Middle East envoy
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday started his first visit to the Middle East as the international community's new envoy to the region. The newly appointed envoy for the "Quartet" of Mideast mediators arrived in Israel for his first visit in the new post. During the two-day visit, Blair was set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other top officials.
Blair's responsibilities are limited; he has no authority to negotiate a final peace deal and thus Israeli and Palestinian officials played down expectations for the visit.
Blair arrived to Israel from Jordan, where he met with Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib. Jordanian officials said Blair listened to the kingdom's perspective on restarting the Mideast peace process.
On Wednesday, the Jordanian foreign minister and his Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, are due in Israel to formally present an Arab peace initiative that envisions full Arab recognition of Israel in return for lands the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israeli and Palestinian officials have welcomed the involvement of Blair. "What I do with the Israelis, what the Israelis do with me, is the main ingredient," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "The decisions required for peace are not going to come from the envoys."
Israeli officials said the talks would be introductory, and they did not expect major pressure from him.