Tony Blair is not a UN Peace Envoy: a dialogue of the deaf with the Guardian
27 October 2009: Me to Guardian Letters: submitted for publication
I enjoyed George Monbiot’s proposals for Tony Blair’s future (Making this ruthless liar EU president is a crazy plan. But I’ll be backing Blair, October 27), but was sorry that Monbiot joined the many commentators who erroneously describe Blair as the “Middle East peace envoy”. According to the statement of June 27, 2007 by the Quartet — the US, Russia, the EU, and the UN — on Blair’s appointment, “As Quartet Representative, he will:
- Mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians, working closely with donors and existing coordination bodies;
- Help to identify, and secure appropriate international support in addressing, the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian state, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law;
- Develop plans to promote Palestinian economic development, including private sector partnerships, building on previously agreed frameworks, especially concerning access and movement; and
- Liaise with other countries as appropriate in support of the agreed Quartet objectives.”
How much if any success Mr Blair has achieved in these challenging but specific tasks since June 2007 I don’t know, but as the Americans stressed publicly at the time, it’s a strictly limited mandate almost entirely unconnected with the peace process — just as it’s a bit of an exaggeration to describe as “President of Europe” an appointment as President (or more accurately in English, Chair or Chairperson) of the EU Council of Ministers, whoever gets the job.
28 Oct 09: Me to Guardian letters
THIS MESSAGE IS NOT FOR PUBLICATION
FOR THE GUARDIAN LETTERS EDITOR FROM SIR BRIAN BARDER
Yesterday I submitted to you a letter for publication (copy below) pointing out that George Monbiot, in his article in yesterday’s Guardian, had wrongly described Tony Blair as the “Middle East peace envoy” whereas the Quartet’s statement of his appointment, which I quoted, showed that his mandate was to encourage foreign investment in Palestine and related matters — nothing to do with the ‘peace’ process.
You haven’t published my letter in today’s Guardian, as of course is your right, and I don’t complain about that. But instead you have published a letter from a Jonathan Smith which describes Mr Blair as “UN envoy in the Middle East” and accuses him of not understanding “that the basic requirement for a mediator is a transparent neutrality…”, etc. Had you published my own letter, it would have been clear that Mr Blair is the envoy of the Quartet, not of the UN, and that he is not in any sense a ‘mediator’. Thus a large part of Mr Jonathan Smith’s letter is beside the point, being based on mistaken assumptions about Tony Blair’s role. I am baffled by your choice of such an obviously flawed letter for publication, especially as you had the origin and exact text of Blair’s terms of reference in front of you in the letter which I had submitted, but which you chose not to publish. (Perhaps you chose not to read it, either?)
I hope that you or the Readers’ Editor, to whom I am copying this, will now publish in the Corrections and Clarifications column corrections to George Monbiot’s reference yesterday to Tony Blair as a ‘peace envoy’ and to Jonathan Smith’s letter’s references to him as a ‘UN envoy’ and a ‘mediator’, since all three descriptions are wrong and misleading. The fact that the ‘peace envoy’ error is so common right across the media surely makes a correction all the more desirable, especially as it has a bearing on current discussion of Mr Blair’s candidature for President of the EU Council of Ministers?
I may put a copy of this message on my blog for the amusement of its readers, but I’ll defer doing so until either I have your response, or else the errors concerned are corrected in the Guardian’s Corrections column, in which case I’ll acknowledge that in my blog.
8 Nov 2009: me to Guardian letters and the Guardian readers’ Editor
Dear Guardian Letters and Readers’ Editors,
With reference to my message below, to which I have had no reply, and the relevant corrections not (I think) having been published, please now see https://barder.com/2180.
If you didn’t copy my original message to George Monbiot when you received it, I would be obliged if you would forward this one to him now.
But I still remain inexplicably loyal to the Guardian!
11 November 2009: Guardian Readers’ Editor’s office’s researcher to me
to Brian Barder
date 11 November 2009 17:22
subject Re: Tony Blair: not a ‘peace’ envoy
Dear Sir Brian,
Many thanks for your email and your request for correction.
The announcement by the Quartet of the appointment of Tony Blair as Middle East envoy placed his role directly in the context of “advancing the search for peace in the Middle East”. His remit does not include negotiation between the parties, but it is intended to move the region toward peace in line with the Quartet’s aims: “As representative, Tony Blair will bring continuity and intensity of focus to the work of the Quartet in support of the Palestinians, within the broader framework of the Quartet’s efforts to promote an end to the conflict in conformity with the roadmap.” The means are described in the passages you quote, but the ultimate aim is (explicitly) broader. Therefore I do not think the reference to Blair as “peace envoy” in George Monbiot’s column requires correction.
On your second point, Tony Blair is not “UN envoy” and I will pursue a correction on that point.
With best wishes,
Researcher, readers’ editor’s office
12 November 2009: me to researcher, Readers’ Editor’s office
For Ms Charlotte Dewar, Readers’ Editor’s office, from Sir Brian Barder
Thank you for your ingenious defence, in your email of yesterday (below), of George Monbiot’s description of Tony Blair as a, or the, “Middle East peace envoy”. I’m afraid, however, that I don’t buy it. Of course the appointment, like any appointment by the Quartet, was by definition “in the context of” or “within the broader framework of” the Quartet’s overall objective of bringing peace to the region: but to say that this makes Blair a ‘peace envoy’ is a bit like saying that when my butcher sells me a leg of lamb “in the context of” the preparations for a dinner party tomorrow, that makes the butcher my cook, or, even more improbably, my wife. In any case, it’s unnecessary to engage in minute textual analysis and interpretation of the Quartet’s announcement of the appointment when its scope has been publicly (and brutally) defined by the leading member of the Quartet with the explicit agreement of at least two of the other three members:
MR. MCCORMACK: …The urgency of recent events has reinforced the need for the international community, bearing in mind the obligations of the parties, to help the Palestinians as they build institutions and economy of a viable state in Gaza and the West Bank, able to take its place as a peaceful and prosperous partner to Israel and its other neighbors.
To facilitate efforts to these ends, following discussions among the Principals, today the Quartet announces the appointment of Tony Blair as the Quartet Representative. Mr. Blair, who is stepping down from office this week, has long demonstrated his commitment on these issues.
As Quartet Representative, he will mobilize international assistance to the Palestinians, working closely with donors and existing coordination bodies; help to identify and secure appropriate international support in addressing the institutional governance needs of the Palestinian state, focusing as a matter of urgency on the rule of law; develop plans to promote Palestinian economic development, including private sector partnerships, building on previously agreed frameworks, especially concerning access and movement; and liaise with other countries, as appropriate, in support of the agreed Quartet objectives.
As representative, Tony Blair will bring continuity and intensity of focus to the work of the Quartet in support of the Palestinians within the broader framework of the Quartet’s efforts to promote an end to the conflict in conformity with the Roadmap. He will spend a significant time in the region working with the parties and others to help create viable and lasting government institutions representing all Palestinians, a robust economy and a climate of law and order for the Palestinian people. Tony Blair will be supported in this work by a small team of experts based in Jerusalem to be seconded by partner countries and institutions. The Quartet representative will report to and consult regularly with the Quartet and be guided by it, as necessary….
QUESTION: Tony Blair’s mandate is apparently limited to this institution building. Does he have any authority to do actual political negotiating for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Mr. Blair’s focus will be on building those Palestinian institutions which will form the basis of a Palestinian state. And I would say that without those institutions and without those institutions being developed, you’re not going to have a Palestinian state. So the idea of the political negotiations and the building of the institutions within the Palestinian state are really of almost equal importance as you’re not going to have a Palestinian state in the absence of one of those two, success in one of those two areas.
So Secretary Rice and President Bush are going to focus on the political negotiations, as they have, and Mr. Blair is going to focus his considerable talents and his efforts on building those Palestinian institutions. I daresay that that is going to be a — take as much time as he is ready to devote to the issue, and I know that he is ready to devote a considerable amount of time to building those institutions.
So I would expect that you can — you would continue to see the same basic breakdown or division of labor in trying to bring about a more peaceful Middle East, bring about a Palestinian state. And Secretary Rice will focus intensely and President Bush will focus intensely on those political negotiations, advancing the Israeli-Palestinian track, advancing the Israeli-Arab track in those negotiations. I’m sure that Secretary Rice and Mr. Blair are going to talk. Of course, they’re going to need to communicate very closely not only though the formal mechanism of the Quartet, but I would also expect on a more informal basis as well.
[State Department press briefing, Sean McCormack, Spokesman, June 27, 2007[ (Emphasis added)
US to keep Blair out of Middle East
By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem Daily Telegraph: 12:01AM BST 20 Jul 2007
Tony Blair was told by the United States yesterday that he had no authority to tackle political negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians as he spent his first full day as special envoy to the Middle East. Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, insisted that America would retain leadership of the “political track” while Mr Blair would work on raising funds for the Palestinians, as well as building their economy and infrastructure.
It was the clearest account yet of the former prime minister’s role in the Middle East on behalf of the international Quartet – the European Union, United Nations, the United States and Russia. He will be more an envoy to the Palestinians than a peace envoy.
“I think his mandate was made clear by the Quartet when they issued the statement,” said Miss Rice. “There is also a political track that for a variety of reasons the United States is committed to lead in co-ordination with the Quartet.”
Mr Blair’s role “is something that is completely complementary and if we all work together, and there is plenty to do, perhaps we can finally deliver,” she said.
While she couched her comments amid lavish praise for Mr Blair, it amounted to a diplomatic snub after his representatives had earlier made clear he wanted to play a key role in peace negotiations.
Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who is understood to have been put out by Mr Blair’s appointment, backed Miss Rice, saying Mr Blair’s mandate is to “build the Palestinian institutions”.
Miss Rice was speaking before Mr Blair attended his first full meeting of the Quartet in Lisbon. “I know that Tony Blair is an experienced, capable, historic figure and he’s going to bring an energy to the international commitment to a Palestinian state that is capable for its own people,” she told Sky News. “There is a very good sense that his dedication now to helping the Palestinians build the institutions of statehood, to move forward on economic development and to press forward on helping to create a strong Palestinian partner is very well timed as we try to move forward toward the establishment of a state.” (Emphasis added)
The same remarks are reported similarly at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-469639/Rice-Im-charge-Middle-East-peace-Blair.html.
[Former Russian prime minister] Mr Primakov’s remarks added to the controversy over Mr Blair’s new job which has turned out to be a lot less ambitious than first forecast. Instead of a Middle East envoy empowered to negotiate peace terms between Israelis and Palestinians, the mandate was trimmed to one in which the former prime minister would be the Quartet’s representative to help to build the economy and institutions of the Palestinians. At the time of the appointment last month, Mr Blair’s people made clear he was itching to extend the scope of the mandate to include peace building. But following his first meetings this week with officials from the Quartet, as well as Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Blair now appears to have accepted the mandate in spite of its limitations. “Mr Blair is happy with the mandate as it will allow him to do the job that he wants to do,” a spokesman for his office said. (Emphasis added.)
[Daily Telegraph, 12 Jul 2007]
It’s superfluous, after quoting such unambiguous textual evidence, for me to recall watching on CNN television a press conference on the middle east at the UN at which Condoleezza Rice, then US Secretary of State, presided at a long table on the platform, flanked on both sides by about 14 or 15 officials of various kinds, each a specialist in some specific aspect of the negotiations. Tony Blair was at the far end of the table on Ms Rice’s right. Various reporters tried to ask Blair questions relating to the peace process but in every case Condoleezza Rice deflected the question to herself and answered it. It was more than half an hour into the press conference before someone at last asked a question about institution-building in Palestine and Ms Rice finally allowed Mr Blair to answer it — the first time Blair had been permitted to utter a single word. Throughout this time Tony Blair’s face, occasionally shown in close-up, looked unmistakeably grim.
You’ll know that the new US administration, having inherited the lead role in the Quartet with responsibility for the middle east peace process, has actually appointed a “peace envoy” for the middle east, in the person of former Senator George Mitchell. It’s not easy to explain how this could have been done without an obvious conflict with Tony Blair’s role if Blair was already the Quartet’s “peace envoy”. Indeed, in September when President Obama met the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and then held his first trilateral meeting with the two leaders, he was “joined by Secretary Clinton, General Jones, Tom Donilon, and [George Mitchell]. For the trilateral meeting, the President was joined by Secretary Clinton, General Jones, and [George Mitchell]. In their meetings, Prime Minister Netanyahu was joined by Foreign Minister Lieberman, Defense Minister Barak, and National Security Advisor Arad. President Abbas was joined by Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo, Negotiations Affairs Department Director Saeb Erekat, and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.” If it had been the case that Tony Blair was the Quartet’s “peace envoy”, how could he have been excluded from these key meetings? Clearly he’s not, and never has been. I’m astonished that the Guardian, with all the expertise on the middle east that’s available to it, should have even considered contesting the point.
In the light of all this irrefutable evidence, would the Guardian now care to reconsider its decision not to publish a correction of Mr Monbiot’s reference to Tony Blair as a “peace envoy”? In view of the direct bearing that all this has on the choice of a President (Chairperson) of the EU Council of Ministers, it would seem obviously desirable to publish that correction without further delay. When you’re in a hole….
Until I hear further from you, I shall postpone putting an addendum to https://barder.com/2180 on my website to take account of your email of yesterday and this reply.
12 November 2009
Corrections and clarifications: Corrections editor
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 November 2009
A letter (Outraged by the Blair pitch project, 28 October, page 33) said that Tony Blair had been proclaimed United Nations envoy in the Middle East. Mr Blair acts on behalf of the “Quartet” comprising the UN, the United States, Russia and the European Union.
12 November 2009: me to Guardian Readers’ Editor
from Brian Barder
to Siobhain Butterworth <email@example.com>
date 12 November 2009 12:47
subject Re: Tony Blair: not a ‘peace’ envoy
12 Nov 2009
Dear Siobhain Butterworth,
My reply (below) to Charlotte Dewar, addressed to the email address given in her message (Readers.Editor@guardian.co.uk), has been returned as undeliverable (“Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550 No such user“).
Might I ask you to pass the message on to Charlotte — or, better still, deal with it yourself?
12 November 2009
23 November 2009: me to Guardian Readers’ Editor
from Brian Barder
to Siobhain Butterworth <firstname.lastname@example.org>
date 23 November 2009 18:04 subject Re: Tony Blair: not a ‘peace’ envoy
From Sir Brian Barder for the Guardian Readers’ Editor
Dear Siobhain Butterworth,
Please refer to my exchange of emails with your colleague Charlotte Dewar, and my messages addressed to yourself, reproduced below.
As I have still had no reply to either of my messages of 12 November, and since to the best of my knowledge you have still not corrected the Guardian’s erroneous descriptions of Tony Blair’s middle east role to which I have alerted you, with extensive supporting evidence, I now propose to place the document attached to this message, comprising copies of the principal messages to and (in one case) from your office, on my website (https://barder.com/). I shall also make a suitable comment on our exchanges with a link to the texts of our emails in my blog, as a follow-up to my blog post at https://barder.com/2180.
If there is any further comment you would like me to include in addition to the text of Ms Dewar’s brief email of 11 November, I shall of course be glad to add it. In that case, I would appreciate an early reply with any text you want me to add. If I hear nothing from you by, say, the start of working hours on Friday, 27 November, I shall take it that you have nothing further to say and I’ll then go ahead and put the attachment to this on my website.
Whether you choose to reply or not, I assure you that I have no intention of stopping either my subscription to the Guardian or my flow of letters submitted, with fluctuating degrees of success, for publication in it!
23 Nov 2009
23 November 2009: Do Not Reply at Guardian.co.uk to me
to Brian Barder
date 23 November 2009 18:04
subject Thank you for your email:
Re: Tony Blair: not a ‘peace’ envoy
Thank you for emailing the office of the Guardian’s readers’ editor, Siobhain Butterworth. We can’t reply to every email but we do read them all.
Please excuse the automated response but we want to let you know what happens when we hear from you.
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All right, Ms Butterworth. I can take a hint.