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US Seeks United Approach on Aid to Hamas-Led Palestinian Government

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States is engaged in diplomatic contacts aimed at denying international aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government, unless it renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist. She discusses the issue Monday in London with the United States' partners in the international Middle East quartet.

The Bush administration has already made clear that most, if not all, U.S. assistance to the Palestinians is in jeopardy because of the ascendancy of Hamas. And Secretary Rice says the United States is in contact with other donors to try to assure that further aid is tied to peace commitments by the next Palestinian government.

In an airborne talk with reporters en route to London, the secretary said the U.S. outreach has included contacts with European and Asian governments as well as multilateral institutions.

She said the international response has been "pretty consistent," even from governments in the Middle East, that Hamas will have to "confront the implications" of its covenant rejecting the existence of Israel if the Palestinian government it is forming can expect normal ties with the rest of the world.

"Our view is that for full engagement with the international community, for real engagement with the international community, for meaningful engagement with the international community, and for support for its programs, a Palestinian government has to be devoted to peace, it cannot be devoted to violence," said Rice.

Secretary Rice said the United States will consider fulfilling aid commitments to the Palestinian administration of Mahmoud Abbas in the interim period while a Hamas-led government is being formed.

She also indicated the United States might not withhold purely humanitarian aid after a new government is seated, saying those programs would be considered on a case-by- case basis.

The U.S. aid for Palestinians in the current fiscal year is about $230 million, a third of that for the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, to which the United States is the biggest single contributor.

Under questioning, Rice acknowledged that the United States had been taken by surprise, along with many others, by the sweeping Hamas election victory.

She said U.S. officials underestimated the level of resentment about corruption in the Palestinian Authority, especially when it was headed by the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat.

She also said that in the election Hamas ran on a platform of good governance and not its record of terrorism, because she said a life of peaceful coexistence with Israel is still what most Palestinians want.

"Now perhaps the Palestinian people want their children to be suicide bombers, and that's the great desire of a large part of the Palestinian population. I don't believe it," she said. "And Hamas is going to have to deal with the deep desire of the Palestinian people for a normal life, and a normal life is only going to come in the context of a two-state solution, of a reasonable relationship with Israel, and with engagement with the international system of a kind that can bring that normal life."

Secretary Rice said, despite an expectation Hamas would do well in the vote, the United States supported the decision of Mr. Abbas to let the election go forward as scheduled.

She said she did not accept the argument that the outcome would have been better at later date, or that elections promised to Palestinians should be denied because of fear of the outcome.

Her meeting Monday with the quartet partners - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan - is a follow-up to a telephone conference call last Thursday.

They issued a joint statement afterward saying a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict requires all participants in a democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist and disarm, as called for in the quartet's 2003 road map to peace.

Diplomats are converging on London for a donors conference on Afghanistan opening Tuesday.