Rice: Officials Advised Carter Not to Meet With Hamas

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 22, 2008; 9:00 AM

KUWAIT CITY, April 22 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday refuted a statement by former president Jimmy Carter that no one in the U.S. government told him not to go on a trip to the Middle East, where he met with the leadership of the militant group Hamas.

"I just don't want there to be any confusion," Rice told reporters outside an international meeting on Iraq she is attending here. "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas, and we certainly told President Carter that meeting with Hamas was not going to help" the situation in the Middle East.

Carter has said he met with Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch, who indicated that the trip was not advisable but did not tell him not to go.

Rice went out of her way Tuesday to issue an on-the-record statement saying that "we counseled President Carter against" the trip. "We wanted to make sure there would be no confusion and that there would be no sense that he was somehow a party to peace negotiations" between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, she said.

Carter, the most prominent Westerner to formally talk with Hamas, met over the weekend with exiled Hamas leader Khaled MeshalĂ– in Damascus. On Monday, Carter said that he had secured an agreement that the organization was prepared to accept the state of Israel, within its borders before the 1967 Middle East war, if a peace agreement was approved by the Palestinian people in a referendum.

Israeli leaders reacted scornfully to Carter's intervention. The Bush administration said that his meetings could undermine the peace talks started in Annapolis late last year and criticized him for giving recognition to a group both countries designate as terrorist.

Carter, speaking after the Hamas conversations, said the peace process had "regressed" since the Annapolis meeting, with more Israeli settlements and roadblocks in the Palestinian West Bank.

"We do not believe that peace is likely, and we are certain that peace is not sustainable, unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way," Carter said Monday in an address to the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations, before flying back to the United States. "The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working."


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