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Blair makes debut as Mideast envoy

  • Story Highlights
  • Tony Blair meets with the Mideast Quartet -- U.S., U.N., EU, and Russia
  • Quartet wants to see a "strong Palestinian partner," says Condoleezza Rice
  • Group supports Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party
  • No plans for talks with rival Hamas party, Rice says
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LISBON, Portugal (CNN) -- Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair makes his debut as special Middle East envoy Thursday amid hopes he can re-energize the peace process.

"We don't need another failed negotiation," said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "We certainly need the energy that Tony Blair can bring."

Thursday's meeting of the Middle East Quartet -- which includes the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union -- will discuss ways to help support the Palestinian government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to create a "strong Palestinian partner," Rice said.

Rice spoke to reporters shortly after touching down in the capital of Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency.

The talks between quartet and Blair come as Abbas seeks early elections that he hopes will bolster support for the government he installed after dissolving the previous Hamas-led leadership. The recent political crisis was set in motion last month after Hamas seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas' Fatah party.

In an attempt to isolate Hamas -- which does not recognize Israel's right to exist -- the United States and EU restarted millions of dollars in aid to Abbas' government that had been frozen after Hamas won last year's parliamentary elections.

On Monday, President Bush called for an international conference on the Middle East this fall and announced the United States was contributing $190 million to help the Palestinian territories.

In addition, he said the Overseas Private Investment Corp. will join in a program to provide $228 million in lending to Palestinian businesses, and $80 million will be provided to help the Palestinians reform their security services.

Rice said there are no plans to try to negotiate with Hamas. She downplayed the notion that stance would raise objections from Russia, which does not list Hamas as a terrorist organization. Rice stressed that Russia has been a key part of constructing quartet agreements that have been signed by Palestinian leaders under Abbas' Fatah party.

Rice's trip initially was scheduled to include stops in Israel and the West Bank as well as Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She now will spend less than a day in Lisbon, returning early Friday to Washington. Part of her trip has been postponed until next month so she can talk up the Bush administration's policy on Iraq, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Zain Verjee contributed to this report.

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