Rice, Sharon disagree over Hamas role in upcoming elections

rice sharon 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
rice sharon 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
In a meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday morning, the main point of contention was over Hamas’s participation in the upcoming PA legislative elections. While Israel believes that Hamas should be barred, the US has accepted the PA position that it would be better able to disarm Hamas after the elections than beforehand. One senior Israeli official said that while this is the US position, “I don’t think anyone believes it.” Rice said that she understood Israel’s position, and that if Abbas would not disarm Hamas after the elections, he would lose the support of the US. She said that the US would not deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, even if they become part of the government. Israel has made clear to the US that while it would not interfere with the elections even if Hamas were to participate, it would not cease hunting Hamas activists simply because they may be involved in the election campaign. The official said Israel and the US were not at odds on this point. One participant in the Sharon-Rice meeting said that despite this dispute, the hour-long breakfast was “friendly,” and dealt primarily with “maintenance issues.” The official said that such contentious issues as settlement outposts and settlement construction were not raised. Before meeting Sharon, Rice met with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. The meeting, which lasted half an hour, focused on Iran and on Israel’s relationship with the Muslim world. Referring to the Iranian president’s recent call to wipe Israel off the map, Rice said that every time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad opened his mouth he said something more scandalous than the last. Iran is isolating itself from the international community, she added. Shalom requested that Rice work to transfer the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council in the upcoming International Atomic Energy Agency meeting on November 24. Shalom’s office told The Jerusalem Post that Rice praised the foreign minister for his campaign geared at normalization with the Arab and Muslim world. She especially lauded Shalom’s scheduled participation in the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunisia on Tuesday, calling it “very important.” Sharon and Shalom also held brief meetings Monday with visiting dignitaries including Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of Denmark, Hungary, Sweden and Switzerland.