Clinton defends US funds for PA gov't

Says "no aid will flow to Hamas"; State Department plays down link between Iran and peace process.

Clinton whistles 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Clinton whistles 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is defending the Obama administration's appropriation of $840 million to the Palestinians from lawmakers who worried some of the funding would make its way to Hamas. In a hearing Thursday before the House Foreign Appropriations Middle East Subcommittee, which must approve the allocation, key Democrats questioned the administration's formula for giving money to a Palestinian Authority that would include Hamas ministers should current negotiations for a Palestinian unity government work out. The US would insist that the unity government - rather than Hamas - abide by the international Quartet demands of renouncing violence against Israel, recognizing Israel and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, which could prove an easier standard. "I'm concerned that you could have a situation where Hamas is permitted to appoint ministers to a unity government provided those ministers agree to [the Quartet] principles even though Hamas does not," Adam Schiff (D-California) told Clinton. "And it seems to me unworkable to have Hamas organizing terrorist attacks against Israel at the same time it has the power to appoint ministers to a coalition government." The committee chairwoman, Nita Lowey (D-New York), said that "concerns remain about this language" giving the administration greater flexibility in giving funds to a Palestinian national unity government. Clinton stressed that, "No aid will flow to Hamas or any entity controlled by Hamas. Under our supplemental provision, the unity government would have to be certified by the president as meeting the requirements that we have set forth." But she also said, "If what emerges from these talks is a unity government that abides by the Quartet principles, we do want to have the authority to deal with that government in the peace process or negotiations that might possibly develop." She compared the situation to that in Northern Ireland. "Not everyone in Sinn Fein and not everyone in the IRA initially agreed to the principles," she said. "But the leadership of the government that was dealt with in both instances did. That's what we're looking for. And we think that is sufficient, given the assurances that we will be looking for to provide you." Clinton added that she thought a unity government that accepted the Quartet principles was highly unlikely in any case. So far, weeks of unity negotiations have stalled as deep mistrust and bad blood pervade dealings between Hamas and Fatah. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), however, wasn't satisfied by Clinton's defense and suggested he would add an amendment removing the flexibility altogether. "I met with King Abdullah yesterday, who said that Hamas ministers all directly follow the orders of Teheran. And so it's a worry that we would provide taxpayer subsidies to a government with Hamas ministers," he said. "That's sort of like saying, 'Well, we would provide taxpayer subsidies to a coalition government. It only has a few Nazis in it, but it's OK.'" In her response, Clinton pointed to "some divisions" within Hamas, saying that "there was no doubt" leaders of the Islamic militant group in Damascus "take orders directly from Iran." But, she said, "we do believe that there has been some efforts to try to, you know, get more authority and opportunity on the part of those in Gaza." She acknowledged, though, that Abdullah and other moderate Arab leaders are deeply troubled by Iran. Lowey described her meetings with the king, who was in Washington this past week, as "dominated" by concerns over Iran. But in her testimony, Clinton used Arab concerns about Iran to push back against suggestions in Israel that Teheran must be dealt with before the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She said Arab countries are telling her that, "For Israel to get the kind of strong support it's looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it can't stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts, that they go hand in hand." She continued, "If there is such an approach, then a lot of the Arab countries are saying to us there will be a sequencing of support that will strengthen the region's response to Iran" before adding, "we haven't had those in-depth conversations yet that we are looking forward to having with the Israeli government." State Department spokesman Robert Wood on Friday, however, tried to blunt her comments, saying during his press briefing that "these are two separate issues, and we believe they can be dealt with simultaneously. "You know, bringing about a peace in the Middle East, a two-state solution, is paramount for us. It's in our national security interest," he said. "So is dealing with Iran's nuclear program. And we can and must deal with these issues, these separate issues, very seriously." Clinton's testimony on Thursday comes as both the House and Senate prepare bills that would impose greater sanctions on Iran's energy industry, which proponents hope will push it to halt its nuclear efforts.