RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The United States hopes to find a way to increase humanitarian donations to the Palestinians following Hamas' election victory, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
The chief U.S. diplomat also reaffirmed that the Bush administration does not want any further delay before the U.N. Security Council begins reviewing Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"I think the discussions are now in New York" at U.N. headquarters, she said. Rice spoke to reporters on a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Rio, where her plane was refueling for a trip to Jakarta, Indonesia.
Rice said she will ask Indonesia, a moderate Muslim nation, to help press the message that the Palestinians must remain committed to peace with Israel even though Hamas refuses to accept the Jewish state's right to exist.
"We are looking at ways to even increase our humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people during this period of time," Rice said.
Rice was not specific. But her comments suggested that the United States intends to replace money it once gave directly to the current moderate and secular Palestinian government with grants for charity work or other projects that are independent of the new government.
U.S. officials have nearly finished an extensive review of aid to the Palestinians that was intended to ensure that future aid does not flow to Hamas.
Hamas, which refuses to renounce violence and has claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings against Israel, is listed as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.
U.S. diplomats are concerned both about the effect an aid cut would have on a poor and underemployed population, and about the perception among Muslims that the U.S. is cutting aid as punishment for selection of leaders it does not like.
The Palestinian Authority is effectively broke, with a monthly deficit in the tens of millions of dollars. In 2005, the first year the authority was not headed by Yasser Arafat, overseas donors contributed about $1 billion of the authority's approximately $1.9 billion.
U.S. direct aid is a small part of that -- $70 million last year. Separately, the U.S. spent $225 million for humanitarian projects through the U.S. Agency for International Development last year, and gave $88 million for refugee assistance.
The authority has agreed to return the unspent portion of a $50 million grant the United States made directly to the government last year. The money was a good faith gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party lost to the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, in January elections.
That amount may now be redirected to humanitarian projects, along with $150 million that the United States had planned to give directly to the Palestinian government this year.
Rice said the United States will go on promoting democracy in the Middle East, the wider Muslim world and elsewhere, even when it has unintended consequences.
"Yes, there are going to be some outcomes that we don't like, but to assume that you simply therefore keep pent up people's desire to have a say in their future just doesn't work," Rice said.
Rice spoke as she left South America for a diplomatic trip to Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim nation -- that will include a visit to an Islamic school and a speech on the spread of democracy in the Muslim world.
"Indonesia does have input" with the Palestinians, Rice said. "I would ask them to influence people in the Palestinian territories that the choice has to be for peace."
Rice acknowledged popular opposition in Indonesia to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the unease elsewhere about the current wave of violence in that country.
"It's a very difficult situation in Iraq. I understand why as people watch their television screens and the continued violence they worry, you know, about the future of Iraq," she said. "But the future of Iraq simply has to be brighter than the past of Iraq" under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.
Anti-American sentiment in Indonesia rose sharply after the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
About 5,000 Muslims rallied in front of the tightly guarded U.S. Embassy in Indonesia a week ago, demanding that American troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan and calling President Bush a terrorist and colonialist.
Rice said the demonstrations prove her point about the value of democracy.
"What that shows is that Indonesia is a vibrant democracy and people can protest and people can speak their minds," Rice said.
"We don't believe that people should protest only when they have a pro-American or a pro-U.S. administration message. They have that right."