Bush Sets Conditions For Contact With Hamas

American Jewish Committee President E. Robert Goodkind and German Chancellor Angela Merkel join President Bush at the group's centennial gala at the National Building Museum.
American Jewish Committee President E. Robert Goodkind and German Chancellor Angela Merkel join President Bush at the group's centennial gala at the National Building Museum. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 5, 2006

President Bush vowed last night not to work with the Palestinian Authority's Hamas leadership until it disavows terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist, as three world leaders came together to celebrate the American Jewish Committee's centennial.

"As you know, I'm a strong believer of democracy and free elections, but that does not mean that we have to support elected officials who are not committed to peace," Bush said, flanked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "Hamas has made it clear that they do not acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, and I've made it clear that so long as that's their policy, we'll have no contact with the leaders of Hamas."

He added: "Democratically elected leaders cannot have one foot in the camp of democracy and one foot in the camp of terror."

Bush also pushed for international action to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"The Iranian regime is repressing its people, sponsoring terrorists, destabilizing the region, threatening Israel and defying the world with its ambitions for nuclear weapons," he said. "America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."

Bush's remarks underscored the central role Israel plays in Middle Eastern affairs and the importance of U.S. policy toward Israel for Jewish Americans, about 2,000 of whom gathered for last night's event at the National Building Museum in Northwest Washington.

Peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled since Hamas was elected earlier this year. And after the debilitating illness of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, Israel's new government took office yesterday under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

But last night's event also reflected how far the United States and Germany have come since World War II and the Holocaust.

"I know that this is anything but a matter of course for a chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany to be invited to address you here tonight," said Merkel, the first German chancellor to address the group.

"Nobody can call into question Israel's right to exist," she said. "Therefore, for any German government it is unbearable and unacceptable when the Iranian president questions this very right," Merkel said.

Bush said the United States would fight the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, where an estimated 180,000 people have been killed.

"We must understand that the rape and the murder and the suffering must be stopped," he said. "And that's why I believe strongly that we must augment [African Union] forces with a blue-helmeted U.N. force, with a NATO overlay, so that we send a clear message to the leaders of Sudan: We will not tolerate the genocide taking place in that country."

Dinner guest Dottie Bennett, 65, of Falls Church, is an American Jew whose parents fled Germany during World War II.

"I feel very proud that Germany and America have come to this point and can work together in the world order," she said.


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