Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

Blair urges Obama over peace deal

Tony Blair in Egypt
Tony Blair says Barack Obama should make Middle East peace a priority

The Middle East envoy Tony Blair has called on the American president-elect, Barack Obama, to become fully engaged in the peace process in the region.

The former British Prime Minister said negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians required Mr Obama's energy, commitment and dedication.

He was speaking in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East mediators.

It is understood hopes are fading for a peace deal by the end of the year.

Spring conference

At the meeting envoys from the US, the UN, the EU and Russia were briefed on the progress of a deal by Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

In response, they announced plans to hold a Spring conference in Moscow, which analysts are viewing as a tacit admission that there will be no peace deal before US President George W Bush leaves office, as he had hoped.

By Spring, February's Israeli elections will have produced a new government and Mr Obama will be in office.

I think for the new president coming in now, there is a great obligation obviously, but also a great opportunity
Tony Blair, Middle East envoy

The Quartet's envoy, Tony Blair, said it was important that the incoming Obama administration "grips this issue from day one" and makes the Middle East an urgent priority.

He told the BBC there was now "a platform on which to build - I wouldn't put it higher than that".

"I think for the new president coming in now, there is a great obligation obviously, but also a great opportunity," he said.

"And from all the conversations that I've had with Barack Obama over the past period, I'm sure that he treats this obligation and opportunity really seriously and wants to move it forward."

'Substantial progress'

He went on to say a great deal of work needed to be done to reach a peace settlement but he insisted genuine progress was being made.

Tony Blair on the Middle East peace process

"You haven't had the peace deal, the peace agreement that everyone wanted to see by the end of this year," he said.

"What you have got, however, is a process that, as the Israelis and Palestinians explained today, they want to continue, where there has been substantial progress made, but where obviously we've going to have to do a lot more in order to bring it to fruition.

"But I think, at the very least, what you've got for the very first time is an agreed strategy between the international communities as to how we're going to resolve it."

The core issues dividing the two sides include the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

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