The Bush administration said Tuesday it has not changed its position of refusing to deal with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, despite that organization's recent electoral successes. The group has long been designated a terrorist organization by the State Department.
Candidates from Hamas have won several recent local elections in the West Bank and Gaza, and the group had been expected to make a strong showing in parliamentary voting that had been set for July but postponed by Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas.
But the Bush administration is making clear that despite European calls for engagement with Hamas, it is not changing its refusal to deal with the group, based on its decade-long presence on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw caused a stir in Israel this week when he disclosed that British diplomats had had some contacts with Hamas politicians, even though he said Britain had not changed its policy of spurning talks with groups linked to terrorism.
At a news briefing here, coinciding with President Bush's White House meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. policy against contact with designated terrorist groups like Hamas is unchanged despite the group's electoral success.
He said official American dealings are with the moderate Mr. Abbas and his administration, and that the U.S. hope is that as the electoral process in the Palestinian areas continues, it will transform the thinking of voters, who will spurn extremism and support parties that can deliver peace and a better life:
"We believe that elections can have a transformative effect, not only on the populace but on individuals within the political process. President Abbas ran on a platform of peace and security and we believe that the Palestinian people want the same things that everybody wants: they want to be able to send their kids to school; they want to live in peace and security; they want to have a more prosperous life," he said. "So we believe that people will vote for candidates that have that platform."
Under questioning, Spokesman McCormack dismissed as hypothetical the notion that holding elected office might transform Hamas members, and make them acceptable dialogue partners for the United States.
Hamas, its name an Arabic acronym for Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, was formed in 1987 as an offshoot of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood.
The State Department's most recent report on global terrorism, issued in April, said that elements of Hamas have used political and violent means, including suicide bombings, to pursue a goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in Israel and the Palestinian areas.