Carter's Hamas Meeting Condemned by Chairman of the House of Foreign Relations

The new chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee on Monday condemned fellow Democrat Jimmy Carter for plans to meet with Hamas, saying the former president holds "warped" views on the Middle East.

By meeting with the Islamist group that controls Gaza and does not recognize Israel's right to exist, Carter "in effect is undermining a current policy which is not just American but held by many others," Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The Bush administration also has criticized Carter's plans to meet in Syria this week with the leader of Hamas, and the plans have angered Israel. There's been less public criticism from other Democrats.

Both the U.S. and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Carter said Monday he hoped to become a "communicator" between the U.S. and Hamas and said Washington's policy of not meeting with people it labeled terrorists is counterproductive.

"Jimmy Carter's view of the forces at work in the Middle East and how he likes to attribute blame and responsibility is so warped to my way of thinking that I'm skeptical of any initiative he undertakes," said Berman.

There's been no indication that Hamas is willing to change its view that Israel should not exist, and "without that there's nothing he can do that the Israelis will buy into," Berman said.

Berman took over the Foreign Relations Committee in March after the death from cancer of its previous chairman, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos of California.

In Monday's interview he also raised doubts about whether Democrats can use an upcoming emergency war spending bill to alter Bush's war strategy for Iraq. Democrats plan to push for withdrawal timelines to be included in the bill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been adamant about trying to get Bush to change course on Iraq.

"We're going to need an election and a new administration to fundamentally change Iraq policy," Berman said.

"Everything else is staking out positions and trying to educate the public or sort of show our views to the public, but it's not going to change the administration's policy," said Berman. They're going to end up getting their money and they're obviously quite wedded to this policy."

Berman criticized the Bush administration's policy on Iran, saying the approach "doesn't appear to be working" and the administration should engage more countries in a push for sanctions to ensure Iran doesn't develop nuclear weapons.

"I do believe there's a level at which the sanctions could change Iranian behavior but I think they're enriching uranium faster than we're raising the level of sanctions," he said.

Berman also joined other leading Democrats in calling on Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing to protest the country's crackdown on protests in Tibet and other policies. Bush has said he doesn't view the Olympics as a political event, but the White House has not yet said whether he will attend the opening ceremony on Aug. 8.