U.S. diplomat tries to unite Arab allies against Hamas

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice must try to reconcile dissonant elements of the Bush administration policy in the Middle East this week, defending the push for Palestinian elections won by proclaimed terrorists while appealing for help from the kind of autocratic regimes she says have had their day.

Rice, who arrived here Tuesday afternoon, wants Egypt and Saudi Arabia to pressure the new Hamas leadership in the Palestinian territories to moderate its policies, the main message of two days of mostly closed-door diplomacy in Cairo and Riyadh.

She also wants those long-standing, largely autocratic governments to help isolate and financially strangle Hamas if the organization will not accept Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and agree to honor agreements made by the previous, moderate Palestinian leadership.

The United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Rice is making her first trip to the region since the surprise Hamas victory in Palestinian elections last month, and does not plan to see any Palestinian officials.

The U.S.-backed goal of peaceful coexistence for Israel and the Palestinians and an eventual independent state of Palestine would be set back by years, perhaps decades, by the prolonged leadership of an unrepentant Hamas.

"I hope Hamas makes the right choice," Rice said in a round-table interview with Arab journalists last week. "Nothing would be better than to have Hamas make the right choice, because if you had all of the entities of the Palestinian people united in the renunciation of violence, disarming of militias, the acceptance of Israel's right to exist, I believe you could move the peace process along really very rapidly."

Rice insisted she has no regrets about supporting Palestinian elections, despite the outcome, and took a historian's long view that democratic forces in the Middle East might produce upheaval before they produce peace, reports the AP.


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