President Bush Affirms U.S. Policy on Hamas

Speaking at a White House news conference Thursday, President Bush said his administration will not negotiate with Hamas — a sworn enemy of Israel — unless it recognizes Israel's right to exist.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We have an update this morning on President Bush's reaction to the surprise Hamas victory in yesterday's Palestinian Parliamentary elections. Speaking at a White House News Conference this morning, President Bush said his administration will not negotiate with Hamas, a sworn enemy of Israel, unless it recognizes Israel's right to exist.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I have made it very clear, however, that a political party that articulates, uh, the destruction of Israel as part of its platform, is a party with which we will not deal.

MONTAGNE: President Bush, speaking earlier this morning at the White House. Joining me now from the White House is NPR's Don Gonyea. Don, this election result, upset victory of Hamas over the ruling Fatah movement, clearly not what the Bush Administration expected.

DON GONYEA, reporting:

That's absolutely correct. It is not. And the President today, you can hear it in his voice. He's trying to be firm, but he's also trying to be just a little bit cautious in his response. He and others in the administration have made that point. We just heard him say that they won't deal with a political party with an armed wing that doesn't think Israel should be able to exist.

Today, though, when asked if he would work with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, he said, well, they have yet to actually form a government. So, he carefully avoids the question. He wants to see what that government will look like. But he does say that Hamas must renounce violence.

MONTAGNE: The President has called for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. What does the Hamas victory mean for that effort?

GONYEA: Well, it absolutely complicates things. There's a lot that's unknown. And the President, again, today, though, tried to be somewhat optimistic on this point. He said the people of this region do want peace. They want the violence that's been going on for so long to stop. He stressed that the U.S. still believes in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

He pointed out that he's advocated that from very early on in his presidency. And he also said that process will continue. But, again, this unexpected election development has the administration now scrambling to adjust and to figure out how to proceed.

MONTAGNE: The President also spoke this morning about another subject, the controversy over his domestic spying program. Let's listen to a bit of what he had to say.

President BUSH: As I stand here right now, I can tell the American people, the program's legal. It's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary.

MONTAGNE: Don, the President has been defending this domestic eavesdropping all week. Did he say anything new this morning?

GONYEA: He's really got his notes down on this. He was asked if he'd be willing to work with Congress to write laws that would allow what he wants to do, and he says it's odd to ask about new laws when he thinks what he's doing is already lawful. He was asked why he feels it's necessary to circumvent the so-called FISA law that allows domestic spying, but requires a warrant, a warrant that they get either beforehand, or after the fact, if it's a really urgent need.

He got a bit testy, saying that if the question includes the word circumventing, he says, that implies he's going around the law, which, again, he insists he's not doing. So that's their story that they're really sticking to.

MONTAGNE: And a good part of that news conference was taken up with questions about a certain lobbyist.

GONYEA: Yes, Jack Abramoff, a prominent Republican lobbyist. He has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and bribery in a Washington influence scandal. He's a big player in town with big ties to Republicans. He's bundled a lot of cash that was given to the President in the form of campaign donations. There are some pictures that exist, featuring the President and Abramoff posing, shaking hands, smiling.

The White House has refused to release them. The President says they're not relevant to the ongoing investigation. He says that he didn't know Abramoff, and he says he gets his pictures taken with lots of people.

MONTAGNE: Don, thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Don Gonyea at the White House. And this is NPR News.

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