Rice urges Russians to take tough stand on Hamas

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday to send a clear, strong message in any meetings with Hamas officials that the militant group must stop terror attacks on Israel.

In response, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, Russian officials offered assurances that "they will send this very clear, strong signal" adopted by Russia along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union in a joint statement approved in response to Hamas' strong showing in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Hamas officials to Moscow and, while no date has been set, McCormack said the assumption was the talks would be held. Israel has responded to the invitation with fury.

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials said Putin's invitation betrayed Israel and could strain relations between the two countries.

The statement adopted by the Quartet overseeing Mideast peace efforts does not address whether nations should meet with Hamas leaders, and governments are to decide for themselves, McCormack said. Egypt has been holding such meetings.

"The Russians made this decision," McCormack said.

For its part, the Bush administration has pledged to have no contact with Hamas until it renounces its call for Israel's overthrow and accepts the existence of the Jewish state.

Besides Rice's conversation with Lavrov, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and other U.S. officials have been in touch with the Russians to underscore the view that Hamas is a terrorist organization, McCormack said.

He said the U.S. message to Russia, and Egypt as well, is that "they be consistent in sending the same message to Hamas."

Putin made his overture to Hamas on Thursday during a visit to Spain.

"We have never considered Hamas a terrorist organization," he said. "Having maintained our contacts with the organization Hamas, we intend to invite their leaders to Moscow in the near future to search for solutions", reports AP.


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