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Tony Blair Holds Talks With Israeli-Palestinian Leaders


Former British Prime Minister and new Mideast Peace Envoy Tony Blair held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Mr. Blair says there is a new sense of possibility in the region.

Saying he had come to listen, learn and reflect, Tony Blair held meetings with Israel's ceremonial President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Mr. Blair is the envoy of the "Quartet" of Mideast negotiators, made up of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

This is his first visit to the region in his new role. The former British prime minister says after his conversations with Israeli and Palestinian leaders he believes progress can be made.

"I think there is a sense of possibility," said Mr. Blair. "But whether that sense of possibility can be translated into something that is something that needs to be worked at and thought about over time."

"I will be here now talking to people in Israel talking to Palestinians as well - getting a sense not just of the challenges and the issues but also of some potential answers and solutions," he continued.

For his part, Israel's President Shimon Peres said Israeli officials welcomed Mr. Blair's involvement, although he said his new role will be full of challenges.

"There is a real chance for his success which is our success," he said. "I do not underrate the difficulties, there are many. But whenever you have to handle a real issue you must negotiate difficulties, and you must overcome opposition, doubts and skepticism."

Mr. Blair has a limited mandate. The Quartet has asked him to examine how to build and reinforce Palestinian institutions, but he has no authority to negotiate as a peace mediator between Israelis and Palestinians.

The former British Prime Minister held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Neither man spoke publicly following their talks, but Saeb Erekat, a close aide to Mr. Abbas says Mr. Blair's mission is helpful, but it is impossible to separate political, security and economic issues from each other when it comes to the Palestinian question.

Erekat also says Mr. Blair's mission of building up Palestinian institutions will be difficult as long as Israel occupies the West Bank and Israeli settlers continue to build settlements there.

Mr. Blair's limited mandate is also complicated by the split between Hamas militants who now control the Gaza Strip, and President Abbas' Fatah movement that largely controls the West Bank. Hamas leaders have criticized his trip saying trying to ignore Hamas will doom any chance for success.

However, Mr. Blair has said that as the representative of the international community he will have no dealings with Hamas, as long as the group refuses to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

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