BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union chose on Monday a veteran Italian negotiator as the bloc’s special representative to the Middle East, a decision EU officials said had no bearing on the role of former British prime minister Tony Blair in the region.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, picked Fernando Gentilini, an EU official who has worked for NATO in Afghanistan, for the special representative role, and she said her choice was supported by EU foreign ministers.
“We are looking very closely how to revive the role of the (Middle East) quartet, starting with the role of the European Union,” Mogherini told a news conference, adding that on the issue of Blair there was “no issue of (his) resignation”.
The Middle East Quartet, comprising the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, has been seeking to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2002.
Her comments followed a report in the Financial Times that Blair was relinquishing his post as the representative for the quartet, which has a technical focus dealing with economic themes, to take a different role in the peace negotiations.
“Tony Blair’s responsibility focused on supporting the economic development of Palestinians. This is not the main focus we have. The main focus we have is the launch of the peace process,” Mogherini said.
Gentilini’s appointment aims to reinvigorate European involvement in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed in April last year. No concrete plan is expected until after Israel’s election on Tuesday.
Gentilini, an EU official, is the director for Western Europe, Western Balkans and Turkey at the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service. He has worked in Afghanistan for NATO and for the EU in Kosovo.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Robin Emmott; Editing by Larry king