(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer insisted Friday that the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections last month has cut short tentative efforts by NATO to build ties with the Palestinian authorities.
"It's an absolute impossibility to have any kind of dealing with Hamas by NATO," de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference. "Contact with Hamas is out of the question."
NATO held exploratory talks last year with the Palestinian Authority as part of a drive to develop closer relations with the Middle East and North Africa. As part of that drive, NATO defense ministers met for the first time Friday with counterparts from Israel and six Arab nations invited to join their NATO counterparts for talks in this Mediterranean resort.
De Hoop Scheffer made similar remarks ruling out relations with Hamas last weekend at an international security conference in Munich, Germany. The United States and European Union regard Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday to send a clear, strong message in any meetings with Hamas officials that the terror group must stop terror attacks on Israel.
In response, according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, Russian officials offered assurances that "they will send this very clear, strong signal" adopted by Russia along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union in a joint statement approved in response to Hamas' strong showing in Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu wrote a letter on Friday to Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting he retract his invitation of Hamas leaders to come to Moscow in order to talk with Russian officials.
Inviting the terrorist organization to the Kremlin would precipitate a wave of acceptance of Islamic terrorism throughout the world - a problem which threatens all of humanity, according to Netanyahu.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, during her visit to the United States, also warned against international recognition of Hamas in a New York Sun interview published Friday morning.
According to Livni, there was a "slippery slope" effect caused by the tendency of some international actors to compromise with Hamas. Any sign of weakness in dealing with Hamas, she added, would lead to "a negative effect - not only for Israel, but also for the Palestinian people and for the international community."
Putin, in a joint press conference in Madrid with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said Thursday that Russia did not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and urged the global community to work with a Hamas-led Palestinian government.
"Hamas has arrived at the doors of power through legitimate elections," Putin said. "We must respect the Palestinian people and we have to look for solutions for the Palestinian people, for the international community, and also for Israel. Contacts with Hamas must continue."
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Friday reiterated his president's invitation, saying that Hamas won the democratic elections. He predicted that many other countries would follow Russia's lead.
Indeed, France expressed support on Friday for the Russian initiative.
A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said that although the invitation was offered by Russia without consulting the other members of the Quarter, the move did not contradict their values and goals regarding the Middle East.
Israeli officials also responded with anger and surprise to the Russian position.
"You can't say you are a friend of Israel, that you are in favor of peace in the Middle East, and at the same time give Hamas a clean bill of health," one senior Israeli government official said.
Putin said Russia would invite Hamas representatives to participate in talks in the future. Putin's remarks come less than two weeks after Russia signed off on a Quartet statement conditioning international support to the PA on the new government's "commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap."
Hamas accepts none of these terms.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev responded to Putin's remarks by saying that "Israel supports the Quartet decision, of which Russia was a party to, that there should be no political dialogue with Hamas until Hamas recognizes Israel, abandons terrorism, and accepts the signed agreements."
AP contributed to this report.