Rice Rules Out Aiding Hamas-Led Government

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 30, 2006

LONDON, Jan. 29 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the United States would not provide financial assistance to a Palestinian government run by Hamas, the radical Islamic group that won last week's parliamentary elections.

"The United States is not prepared to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel, that advocates violence," Rice told reporters traveling with her to London for a 40-hour visit to focus on the Hamas issue and Iran's nuclear program, as well as an international conference on Afghanistan.

Rice said the Palestinian Authority stands to lose much of the foreign assistance that helps make up its $1.6 billion annual budget. Rice said funding from the European Union, Asian nations, the United Nations and international financial institutions is in jeopardy if Hamas does not change its policies.

Hamas has refused to recognize Israel's right to exist and its military wing has carried out bombings and other attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. The United States, the E.U. and Israel have designated Hamas a terrorist organization.

"We're going to review all of our assistance programs, but the bedrock principle here is we can't have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government," Rice said. The United States provided a total of $403 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority in 2005, according to U.S. officials. She said humanitarian aid would be considered "case by case."

Rice, who plans to discuss the Hamas victory Monday with officials from the United Nations, the E.U. and Russia, said: "Perhaps Palestinian people want their children to be suicide bombers, and that's the great desire of large numbers of the Palestinian population. I don't believe it."

Also Monday, Rice is to meet with foreign ministers from the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- China, Russia, Britain and France -- as well as Germany. Those nations agreed this month that Iran must completely suspend its nuclear program, but they failed to agree on whether Iran should be referred to the U.N. Security Council for action.

Despite intense pressure from the United States and the European nations, China and Russia have been reluctant to refer one of their most important trading partners to the council, where Iran could face possible sanctions. Officials close to the upcoming talks here said it remained unclear whether the group will be able to present a unanimous and unequivocal position on the issue before a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency Thursday in Vienna.

The board of the 35-nation IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, is meeting in an extraordinary session Thursday to consider its response to Iran, which brought the issue to a head this month when it removed IAEA seals on equipment at a uranium enrichment plant that had ceased operations two years ago. Highly enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear bombs.

The IAEA board could refer Iran to the Security Council. Iranian officials have threatened to cease all non-mandatory cooperation with U.N. inspectors and block further inspections of its facilities if the case is sent to the council.

Iran insists it is pursuing a program to produce nuclear power. U.S. officials allege that Iran's true goal is to produce nuclear weapons.

A central issue at Monday's talks is expected to be a proposal by Russia, which has said it would enrich Iran's uranium on Russian soil, then send the finished product back to Iran. Russian officials have said that would guarantee that Iran could not secretly produce uranium suitable for bomb-making. China endorsed the Russian plan last weekend.

Staff writers Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer in Washington contributed to this report.

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