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ALEX COHEN, host:

From NPR News, it's Day to Day. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Middle East this week, a visit intended to promote lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Today's she's in Egypt where she'll pledge $300 million in humanitarian aid to help war-torn Gaza. The U.S. has also promised an additional $600 million to the Palestinian authority to help with budget shortfalls. Mark Landler is traveling with Clinton for the New York Times and he joins us now from a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. And thank you for joining us. And let's go straight to the big question you asked in your piece, and that question is what is the U.S.'s policy towards Hamas?

Mr. MARK LANDLER (Journalist, New York Times): Well, the U.S. policy, to put it very quickly, has not changed. The U.S. has insisted all along that it would only do business with Hamas if Hamas agreed to renounce terrorism and recognize the right of Israel to exist. And today at this conference, Mrs. Clinton did not swerve from that policy, in fact, she reaffirmed it and said that if the Palestinians were to negotiate to have a unity government, one that brings together the Palestinian authority and Hamas, that that government could only deal with the United States on the basis of renouncing terrorism and recognizing Israel. So, the public posture of the U.S. is very much to reaffirm existing policy. The tone of Mrs. Clinton's remarks, at least in atmosphere, are much broader and more expansive that what the Bush administration has done over the last few years. So, the question many people have here is whether over time we will begin to see a movement in some of these U.S. positions.

COHEN: Hamas is still launching rockets at towns in Israel. Has Mrs. Clinton had any response to that?

Mr. LANDLER: Mrs. Clinton alluded to it today in her remarks. She mentioned the fact that there were still rocket attacks being aimed at civilians in Israel and she made that part of a strong statement, as I said, to put pressure on Hamas. The reason she's doing this in some ways is because other members of the international community are beginning to show more flexibility on the issue of Hamas. The European Commission, in the person of Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who is the commissioner for external affairs, has signaled that the European Commission is more open to doing business with a unity government that includes Hamas. She came to Washington last week and delivered that message to Mrs. Clinton personally. So Mrs. Clinton, I think, is putting down a bit of a marker today saying the U.S. position has not yet changed.

COHEN: And if this unity government doesn't happen, how does Hillary Clinton hope to bring Israel and the Palestinian authority together?

Mr. LANDLER: Well, that's an extremely difficult issue and that's the dilemma that everyone here is facing. There's a general recognition that the current arrangement where you have Hamas controlling Gaza, the Palestinian authority trying unsuccessfully to reestablish its position there, the Israeli government keeping crossings into Gaza closed out of a fear that they don't want to strengthen Hamas, all of these militates against an effective relief effort which is the primary purpose of this conference here.

COHEN: Mark, this is Secretary Clinton's first trip as secretary of state to the Middle East. How is she being received there?

Mr. LANDLER: Well, I think she's being received with open arms. She represents an administration that has signaled, that wants a new engagement with many parts of the world. I think the recognition on the part of everyone here is that it will take a little bit of time to allow this administration to begin to decide on its own policy direction, and it's really too early to see that yet.

COHEN: Mark Landler writes for the New York Times, and is traveling with Secretary Clinton on her Middle East tour. Thank you, Mark.

Mr. LANDLER: Thank you very much.

COHEN: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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