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(photo credit: AP)
The West should not be talking to Hamas at present, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
In the run-up to the international meeting the United States is convening on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the focus should be on the major issues of "recognition of the security of Israel and setting up a Palestinian state," Kouchner said.
He said efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah would be a monthslong undertaking that would set back the conference plans. Once the parley was held, he said, Gaza could be addressed.
Now, he said, "is not the moment" to talk to Hamas.
Kouchner spoke briefly to the Post following a lecture on the European-America relationship between held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies during his first visit to Washington since becoming foreign minister.
At the conclusion of his speech, he defended Israel's alleged nuclear program after a protester in the audience called for a nuclear-free Middle East and suggested that Israel's nuclear capabilities should be neutralized as a way to create stability in the region.
When it comes to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, Kouchner said, "I agree with you that would be better."
But he suggested that wasn't an adequate solution to the realities of life in the Middle East.
"Israel is threatened by [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," he said, noting that the country had never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. "There is a real danger." When a threat is made, "we have to react, we have to defend our views," he said. "We have to defend democracy."
Kouchner also addressed Iran in his lecture, calling it the Middle East issue "most pregnant with threats for the future."
"To those who say that we should handle Iran with kid gloves, since it could destabilize the region, I say this: look at its adventurism today and imagine what it would be like if Teheran thought itself one day protected by a nuclear umbrella," he continued.
Yet Kouchner maintained that his recent comments about the need to prepare for the worst - war with Iran - had been misconstrued as bolstering military action, since he was actually voicing his opposition to any such armed conflict.
At the same time, he said, "We will do everything in our power to avoid the dreadful alternative laid out by [French] President Sarkozy: the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."
Kouchner advocated "dialogue, dialogue and dialogue again, despite rebuffs," but also strong sanctions.
"If sanctions without dialogue can only lead to confrontation, dialogue without sanctions is unfortunately tantamount to weakness," he said. "My greatest hope would be to obtain robust sanctions in the United Nations Security Council."