Rice: Stance on Hamas Unchanged After Election

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday the U.S. position on Hamas as a terrorist organization has not changed, despite the militant group's stunning victory in Palestinian elections.

"You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror," told an international conference in Davos, Switzerland via a telephone hookup to the State Department. "Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed."

Rice spoke shortly after Palestinian voters rejected the longtime rule of the Fatah Party, throwing the future of Mideast peacemaking into question.

"Palestinian people have apparently voted for change, but we believe their aspirations for peace and a peaceful life remain unchanged," she said. Rice said those goals will require renunciation of violence and terrorism and acceptance of Israel's right to exist side-by-side with a Palestinian state.

"You can't have a peace process if you're not committed to the right of your partner to exist," she said.

She urged the international community to "speak clearly and truly to its principles" and urge Palestinians to renounce violence. Rice is due to meet in London on Monday with U.N., Russian and European leaders as the so-called "Quartet" of nations evaluates the results and tries to decide how to proceed with peacemaking efforts.

The Bush administration, in advance of the election results showing, renewed its pledge not to deal with the organization the State Department considers a terrorist group.

President Bush was quoted in a story published Thursday as saying the United States would have nothing to do with the militant group until it abandons its stated intention of annihilating the state of Israel. Hamas has taken responsibility for several attacks on Israel.

In an interview in The Wall Street Journal, Bush said of Hamas: "The answer is: Not until you renounce your desire to destroy Israel will we deal with you."

Bush scheduled a news conference Thursday morning at the White House.

The office of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that Rice had called Abbas to praise Palestinian democracy and assert that the United States supports him and his policies.

"She asserted to him that U.S. administration will continue supporting the elected president and his policies," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas aide.

Abbas, who was elected separately a year ago and remains president, must ask the largest party in the new parliament — presumably Hamas — to form the new government.

In Washington Thursday, a State Department official confirmed that Rice had telephoned Abbas. This official, declining to be identified because Rice had not yet commented publicly, said Abbas was still the head of the Palestinian Authority and continues to have an important role to play.

The initial speculation Wednesday — as Hamas ran neck-and-neck with Abbas' Fatah Party — was that Hamas would steer clear of a post involving peacemaking efforts and would be consigned to domestic ministries such as education.

But Hamas' defeat of Fatah could change that calculation in a way that might put pressure on Washington to find a way to both uphold aversion to the militant group and also promote peacemaking.

For years, even though he was the unquestioned leader of the Palestinians, the United States declined to deal with -- or even have contact with -- Yasser Arafat.

Under U.S. pressure in the Reagan administration, Arafat made a statement renouncing terrorism, and the United States went on to deal with him in Mideast peace efforts.

But Bush, deciding that Arafat was corrupt and linked to persistent violence against Israel, cut him off, and did not invite him to the White House.

Rice is due to meet in London on Monday with U.N., Russian and European leaders as the so-called "Quartet" evaluates the results and tries to decide how to proceed with peacemaking efforts.