U.S. Challenges New Palestinian Government To Explain Terror Stance

Tuesday, March 20th 2007, 8:24 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States wants Palestinian leaders to be more clear on a new coalition government's stance on violence against Israel.

Islamic Hamas militants and a Western-backed Palestinian president have formed a new shared government coalition in hopes of ending an international aid boycott.

But the coalition's political platform announced Saturday stops short of meeting the terms of international donors and would-be peacemakers that Palestinian leaders renounce violence, accept Israel's right to exist and abide by previous agreements the Palestinians made with Israel and others.

The platform makes some rhetorical bows toward satisfying the demands, but also refers to resistance ``in all forms'' to Israeli occupation. Israeli officials read that as a coded endorsement of suicide bombings or other violence.

``I'm not going to try to interpret what the right of resistance means,'' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday after a meeting with European diplomats. ``But I'll tell you it doesn't sound very good to me when one talks about 'all forms' of resistance.''

A senior State Department official said Washington is not satisfied with the Palestinian stance because it does not meet all the requirements. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Rice's planned weekend trip to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Rice said Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh should explain the reference.

``Do you mean the right of resistance by violence?'' Rice asked. ``And let's get an answer.''

The United States has held a hard line against Hamas since the military and political organization won Palestinian legislative elections more than a year ago, but some European and other governments have long signaled discomfort with the strict policy.

Norway, a key donor nation to the Palestinians, was the first to bless Hamas' union with the secular Fatah Party. Norway pledged to resume economic aid and sent a representative to meet with Palestinian officials Monday.

The United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization, but Norway is not an E.U. member.

Other European countries _ including France and Belgium _ are planning talks with the Palestinian officials. Russia and France say sanctions should be lifted on the Palestinian Authority.

The four-member ``quartet'' of Middle East peacemakers _ the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia _ held its first discussion Monday on how to respond to the new Palestinian government.

Austrian Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union's external relations commissioner, said late Monday the quartet reached a consensus that the formation of the Palestinian government is a step forward for Palestinian reconciliation.

In an interview with The Associated Press, she said representatives of the quartet _ the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia _ had agreed in a telephone discussion, however, to wait and see whether the new government conforms to the Quartet's demands before deciding how to proceed.

She did not elaborate on specific points of agreement.

``I've always said that we would be ready to work with those who seek peace by peaceful means,'' Ferrero-Waldner said. ``The quartet has today confirmed what I always also repeated, that we will have to judge the government by its words and also by its action.''

She said the European Union would continue limited direct aid to Palestinians for three months.

The State Department said Rice and other quartet diplomats spoke by phone and would probably summarize the discussions in a statement to be issued Tuesday.

Rice later discussed the Palestinian government with the European Union's top foreign policy officials at a previously scheduled meeting in Washington. There were no explicit disagreements on display afterward, but European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana suggested he is willing to be flexible.

``We expect very much that this government in the process will be taking the positions of the quartet, as much as possible, and at the end completely,'' Solana said.

``We'd like to say, once again, that we would like to continue working with the Palestinian people,'' Solana said. ``We are not going to let the Palestinian people down.''

A spokeswoman for Solana said the EU would take a wait-and-see approach, but would maintain their funding policy and continue contact with non-Hamas officials.

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