The international Quartet on the Middle East - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - issued a joint call late Thursday for the victor in the Palestinian election, the militant Islamic movement Hamas, to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist. The Quartet statement followed a telephone conference among the parties.
The Quartet has played a leading role in regional diplomacy since the issuance of its "road map" to a two-state settlement of the Middle East conflict in April 2003.
In their latest statement, in the wake of the Hamas election victory, the Quartet partners reiterated there is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state.
They said the two-state solution requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm as called for in the road map.
The statement was issued following a 20-minute telephone conference call among Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and European external relations commissioner Benita Ferraro-Waldner.
The Quartet members said the Palestinian people have voted for change, but that they believe that their aspirations for peace and statehood remain unchanged, as stated earlier Thursday by Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas.
The four partners congratulated Mr. Abbas on an electoral process that was free, fair and secure.
They urged all parties to respect the results of the election and the outcome of the Palestinian constitutional process, so that it can unfold in an atmosphere of calm and security.
The Quartet statement resembled the formal U.S. reaction to the election outcome, given by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier in the day in a television hookup with the World Economic Forum In Davos, Switzerland.
She said the United States has not changed its position with regard to Hamas which it considers a terrorist organization, saying you cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror.
Later at his news conference, President Bush said an organization that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is not a party with which the United States can deal.
"I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a county as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if your parties has got an armed wing. And so the election has just took place. We will watch very carefully about the formation of the government, but I will continue to remind people about what I just said: that if your platform is the destruction of Israel, it means you are not a partner in peace," he said.
Officials here say the administration will await the formation of a new government before deciding on key policy questions, including the future of the U.S. dialogue with, and the considerable U.S. aid program for, the Palestinian Authority.
Secretary Rice spoke by telephone during the day with Mr. Abbas, a member of the mainstream Palestinian Fatah movement elected a year ago, as well as Israel's new Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Hamas has been on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations for several years and the suicide bombings it has staged against Israel have killed a number of U.S. citizens.
The United States has continued to have dealings with the Lebanese government since last year's election there, even though the cabinet includes two members identified with the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, which is also listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.
But the situation posed by the Hamas election victory is markedly different, since Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislative council and can be expected to emerge with key ministries including possibly the prime ministers' post.
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia of Fatah resigned his post Wednesday as the election outcome became clear.
Secretary Rice and her other Quartet partners are due to meet in London Monday to further discuss the implications of the election.