Britain’s Blair claims Obama ready for Middle East peace as Rice makes final summit trip

Tony Blair lead public pleas for Barack Obama, the incoming US president, to take strong role in the Middle East peace process as soon as he enters office in January.

By Carolynne Wheeler in Jerusalem
The Telegraph, London
Mr Blair and other mediators between Israel and the Palestinians marked the 19th and probably final visit to the region by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, at a summit at Sharm al-Sheikh.

Blair claims Obama ready for Middle East peace as Rice makes final summit trip

Barack Obama with Tony Blair in London, July 2008 Photo: AP

The former British prime minister revealed that he had spoken “regularly” with Mr Obama in the last three months about peace efforts.

“The single most important thing for the new US administration is to press this issue from day one knowing that for the first time we have comprehensive political negotiations through the Annapolis process,” Mr Blair said.

Mr Blair, now the Quartet’s envoy to the Middle East, urged the new administration of Barack Obama to make the peace talks a top priority as officials revealed a follow-up summit is set to take place in Moscow in spring 2009.

The peace talks, relaunched a year ago with much fanfare at Annapolis, Maryland after a seven-year hiatus, were intended to produce a state of Palestine at peace with neighbouring Israel before Mr Bush left office. But a full year of negotiating has produced little obvious progress.

Efforts at economic development, spearheaded by Tony Blair, have also fallen short of original expectations, stymied by Israeli controls on movement and the deep rift between Palestinian factions in control of Gaza and the West Bank respectively.

At a summit at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, senior leaders from the European Union, Russia and the United Nations joined US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators – for a briefing from Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

“Without minimising the gaps and obstacles that remain, the representatives of the parties shared their assessment that the present negotiations are substantial and promising,” said a joint statement read by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. “The Quartet reiterated its call to the parties to fully implement their obligations under phase one of the road map, including in relation to freezing settlement activity and dismantlement of the infrastructure of terrorism.”

Outwardly both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have maintained that talks are progressing and a strict ban on media leaks is to prevent their derailment.

“It was agreed that we will continue negotiations to reach a final status agreement to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said. “We decided that until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed. The idea is to reach an understanding of all the issues and agreed the negotiations will be discreet.”

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