Bush plans 1st meeting with Blair as West Asia envoy

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WASHINGTON, Sep 21 (Reuters) US President George W Bush will meet Tony Blair in New York on Monday, their first direct talks since the former British prime minister became international West Asia envoy, the White House said.

Bush's meeting with Blair will follow a separate session with US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, also in New York the day before Bush and other world leaders address the UN General Assembly.

The round of talks could help lay the groundwork for a US-sponsored West Asia peace conference set for November.

Bush played an instrumental role in last June's appointment of Blair, his close ally in the 2003 Iraq invasion, as special envoy for the Quartet of West Asia mediators, the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a 36-hour visit to the region this week but there was little sign she had managed to bridge their differences ahead of the US-led conference.

Michael Kozak, a senior official at the White House National Security Council, told reporters Bush's talks with Blair and Palestinian leaders are seen as an opportunity to advance a vision of Israel and an eventual Palestinian state living side by side in peace.

Bush has promoted a two-state solution but has been accused by critics of doing little to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, stalled by violence and mutual mistrust for most of his administration.

REUTERS GT RK2239

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