WASHINGTON – Cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas' election victory could push it closer to Iran and create further chaos in the Middle East, a Republican senator said Sunday.
Yet governing changes in the region could allow diplomatic efforts by the Bush administration to move "in some quiet ways," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, a top member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I think we're moving in the right direction, working with our allies, working with the United Nations, finding ways, with Hamas, to see where they're going to go here in the next few weeks, to see if there's something that we could do to influence that direction," said Hagel, R-Neb.
Hagel and other senators endorsed President Bush's position that U.S. aid should be cut to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian government unless Hamas abolished the militant arm of its party and stopped calling for the destruction of Israel. The United States and many other nations view Hamas as a terrorist organization.
He said the Bush administration must recognize how the different issues in the Middle East are connected and pursue initiatives to find the common interests of different countries, including the United States.
"It'll be imperfect. It won't be a Jeffersonian democracy, I suspect, anywhere. But it will be better. It can be better, and we work toward a future," Hagel said on ABC's "This Week."
Hamas' strong showing in last week's voting has been attributed by some to dissatisfaction with the ruling Fatah party's ability to provide basic services as well as widespread corruption in its government. The U.S. was providing $150 million in aid to the Palestinian government this year.
"That money will not flow to that government," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Sen. Barak Obama, D-Ill., said he agreed with holding back U.S. aid and hoped Hamas would moderate its hardline stance against Israel as it learns how to govern.
"Until they do so, it's very difficult for us to expect to provide significant financial assistance or engage in meaningful peace talks with a party that is explicitly against the prospects for peace," Obama said on ABC.
Bush should be supported in withholding money, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean said, yet prodding Hamas to become a responsible government will be difficult.
"That's a big transition for them because right now they are a terrorist organization. And I haven't heard anything in their rhetoric yet that indicates otherwise," Dean said on "FOX News Sunday."
Added Sen. Pat Robert, R-Kan.: "Let's hope that the people who voted for Hamas did so because of the social services and they'll now work back to a political process that will solve this problem."
A White House aide, Dan Bartlett, said the United States is waiting to see "exactly the type of government they form."
Bartlett said on a cable news network that the United States does not give aid to terrorist groups "and that's something that we won't violate but there's some active discussion going on."