Rice: Better to have Hamas in gov't than armed on streets

Olmert to meet with Rice on Sunday, and President Bush on Monday.

Condi Rice 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Condi Rice 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not intend to show support for Hamas policies when she said this week that an elected Hamas government in the territories may be preferable to the group operating outside the power structure, a senior US official said on Tuesday. The official spoke in advance of a visit by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Washington D.C. next week, where Olmert is slated to meet with Rice on Sunday and US President George Bush on Monday. He will also meet with senior officials in the areas of national security and foreign policy. It is Olmert's second visit since taking office last spring. The stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process was one of the more important items on the agenda, said the official. He said the January election - which placed Hamas at the head of the Palestinian Authority - left Israel without an "appropriate partner." At the same time, he said, the US supported the fact that Hamas was democratically elected and did view, as Rice said, the elevation of such a group to the government as an opportunity for change and reform. Rice, in speaking to a pro-democracy forum on Monday, argued that the United States should not retreat from its advocacy of democracy abroad, even when elections do not turn out well from the US point-of-view. Referring to Hamas, Rice said, "I am not so sure that it is better to have these groups running the streets, masked, with guns rather than having them have to face voters and having to deliver." While the election that produced the Hamas victory was free and fair, she said Hamas had failed in its responsibility to obtain international acceptability. The problem, according to the official, were the policies of the Hamas government. It had failed to support three important conditions necessary for US and international acceptance: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and accepting previous official Israeli-Palestinian agreements. He called ongoing efforts on the part of Hamas and Fatah to form a new government that would be acceptable to the international community, "a step in the right direction." The official said,"Until we see the actual results, until we see names that have been accepted by both sides, we are taking a wait and see attitude. The point we have made consistently, in all our discussions, is that it doesn't make sense to spend your time on forming a new government unless it can accept the international principles," said the official. Any Palestinian government would be held to these principles, he added. AP contributed to this report.