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Blair Rejects Meeting with Hamas for Now


British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will not have contact with the Hamas group that won the recent Palestinian elections until and unless it accepts Israel's right to exist. The issue came up at the prime minister's monthly news conference.

Prime Minister Blair says a meeting with Hamas at this stage, in hopes of reviving the Middle East peace process, would only cause confusion.

"It would make it appear as if we were prepared to try to find a way forward without Hamas renouncing its desire to eliminate Israel," he said.

But the prime minister says Britain would be delighted to get involved in Middle East peace-making when and if Hamas ever accepts Israel's existence.

"If Hamas do make that historic decision, we are not just prepared but keen, enthusiastic, to take this process forward and there's every chance it can be taken forward successfully," Blair said.

Blair declined to address a question about Iran's offer to make up any Western aid cuts to a Hamas-led Palestinian government. But he did state that Britain recognizes Hamas's electoral victory, and that the group has a mandate to rule.

On another issue, Blair took exception to an Amnesty International report alleging the British government's anti-terrorism policies risk deporting people to countries where they could be tortured.

"We have people here in this country that we are trying to deport. We hear an immense amount about their human rights and their civil liberties," Blair said. "But there are also the human rights of the rest of us to live in safety. And when people say to me that unless I can give absolute, cast-iron guarantees, [then] we have got to keep people here who may be engaged actively in inciting terrorism in this country, I have to say I think we've got the world the wrong way around."

On a related matter, Blair refused to endorse a legislative committee's appeal for his government to publicly criticize the United States for maintaining a prison camp holding alleged al-Qaida suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Blair repeated that he considers the camp to be an "anomaly" that should be closed sooner rather than later. He also hinted that he has given private advice to that effect to the Bush administration, but he refused to elaborate.

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