Rice: No Aid for Hamas-Led Government

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says nations should withhold aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government unless the group renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist. Rice is in London during a diplomatic trip to Europe.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Today, some of the world's leading diplomats are deciding what to do about Hamas. The group that the U.S. and Europeans label a terrorist organization won last week's Palestinian elections. Now, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is meeting European leaders in London. She wants Hamas to get no Western aid unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is covering the secretary's trip. She's in London, and Michele, what sort of leverage does the U.S. have here?

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Well, that's it, aid. The Palestinian Authority is dependent on outside foreign assistance, and since Hamas is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations the Bush Administration has made clear it has no plans to fund or deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. And Secretary Rice is expecting other donors to be clear on this as well. She's talking not only about the Europeans, the U.S., but also international financial institutions.

We'll have to see whether the other groups are going to along with this quite tough line. There's some caveats in this aid debate. Secretary Rice said she's going to consider funds that were already promised for Mahmoud Abbas' leadership as the president of the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Authority is facing a very serious budget crisis right now. So, Secretary Rice is going to have to talk about this today with the grouping that's called the Quartet. And that's the United Nations, the U.S., European Union, and Russia.

INSKEEP: Are other members of that group as likely to take such a hard line?

KELEMEN: Well, we have heard already Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will take a fairly tough line. Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, who will be part of these talks today, has also taken a tough line. Basically, Secretary Rice is saying that the international community should only support a Palestinian Authority that accepts the principles of the peace process. And so far we've heard people taking a fairly tough line on Hamas, but we'll see how far that can go.

INSKEEP: Michele, it's safe to assume that this is not what the Bush Administration had in mind when it was promoting democracy in the Middle East. Is there any sign of regret?

KELEMEN: Well, certainly a lot of head scratching. When Secretary Rice talked to us on the plane on the way to London she acknowledged that she was caught off guard by the very strong showing of Hamas. She said the U.S. probably underestimated how much the Palestinians resent, what she called, the decade of corruption in the old guard. She said she's asked her staff why no one saw it coming, and she admitted that the U.S. doesn't seem to have a pulse on the Palestinian population.

INSKEEP: Does this raise questions about the Administration's efforts to spread democracy in other parts of the Middle East?

KELEMEN: Well, certainly many analysts are pondering that question right now. On the Palestinian issue specifically, Secretary Rice said she supported President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to go ahead with this vote to allow Hamas to run even though U.S. officials were clearly uncomfortable about it. And she also said she doesn't believe there would have been a better outcome had the polls been postponed.

On this broader question of democracy, the way she puts it, she says the Middle East is going through this big transition, and she said there is a sense of unpredictability about the outcomes, but that's the nature of big historic change. So, so far she's backing this continued approach.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about another unpredictable situation. The U.S. and its allies are trying to figure out what to do with about Iran. What's at stake as they discuss that issue?

KELEMEN: Well, she's having dinner tonight with the three Europeans who negotiated with Iran, and also with Russia and China. And what's at stake there is whether or not this issue goes to the United Nations Security Council. The Bush Administration, the Europeans are trying to have a united front to isolate Iran, put diplomatic pressure on Iran, to force it to give up its nuclear ambitions. And Russia and China are both Security Council members so they're quite key. That's why they're included in this dinner. The others are the EU Three, Britain, France, and Germany, which had negotiations with Iran until those talks, as they admitted, reached a dead end.

INSKEEP: Okay. NPR's Michele Kelemen is with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in London. Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

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