Bush Holds Hard Line on Hamas

President Bush hails the democratic process in the Palestinian territories, but rejects talks with Hamas as long as the organization is committed to the destruction of Israel. How will the United States proceed diplomatically?

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. We're going to continue with the coverage of the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections. The Bush Administration says it still views Hamas as a terrorist organization and it says it won't deal with a Palestinian political party that advocates the destruction of Israel. So Hamas' victory leaves the Bush Administration in a quandary. President Bush has often said his goal is a viable Palestinian state but many in the U.S. say Washington can't help fund a government run by Hamas. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The rise of Hamas has tested the Bush Administration's democracy push in the region. President Bush insisted today he wasn't really surprised by the results of the Palestinian election. He tried to spin it this way: that he understands the Palestinians want change and voted against corruption.

GEORGE W: You see, when you give people the vote, you give people the chance to express themselves at the polls. They uh, and, and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know.

KELEMEN: But he made clear U.S. Policy on Hamas will remain status quo.

BUSH: The United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally, Israel. And that people must renounce that part of their platform.

KELEMEN: President Bush says he wants Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, to stay in office, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave him that message directly in a phone call today. The U.S. clearly wants to keep some channels open to the Palestinian authority. Secretary Rice, meantime, has been trying to rally others in the international community to send a clear message to Hamas.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The time is coming when the international community is going to have to speak clearly and truly to its principles. We understand that this is a transitional period, but anyone who wants to govern the Palestinian people and do so with the support of the international community has got to be committed to a two-state solution.

KELEMEN: And Rice added, committed to Israel's right to exist:

RICE: You can't have a peace process if you're not committed to the right of your partner to exist. There will be some difficult choices before those who, in whom the Palestinian people are placing their trust.

KELEMEN: There will also be some difficult choices for policymakers in Washington. Stephen Cohen of The Israel Policy Forum says he thinks the U.S. is putting the cart before the horse and should stay focused on immediate concerns.

STEPHEN COHEN: The issue today is whether Hamas will agree to extend the cease-fire and to make it really hermetically sealed. And not the question of their ideological declarations of change.

KELEMEN: That, he says, is a question for a much longer debate. An American who monitored the Palestinian election, Mara Rudman of the Center for American Progress, is also concerned that Congress may seize on the vote to prohibit U.S. Aid to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

MARA RUDMAN: There's some question about what degree of flexibility the U.S. Government has, whether we can continue to deal with non-governmental organizations as opposed to directly with the P.A. and, as I said, we're facing a situation where the P.A. is nearly bankrupt.

KELEMEN: President Bush skirted a question today as to whether he would cut U.S. aid to the Palestinians, though he suggested he could. It was only recently he allowed funds to go directly to the Palestinian authority rather than through non-governmental organizations. That was part of the Bush Administration's bid to boost Mahmoud Abbas' authority, an effort that seems to have failed. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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