Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Washington Tuesday he is hopeful Hamas will endorse the international "road map" to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. U.S. officials, however, say they do not see any softening of the position of Hamas, which does not accept Israel's right to exist.
Foreign Minister Lavrov is defending his government's decision to receive a Hamas delegation in Moscow late last week - a move Washington pointedly did not endorse.
He is suggesting that the hard-line Islamic group which now controls the Palestinian legislative council, may be considering endorsing international Middle East peace plans that do, or would, recognize Israel.
At a joint press appearance with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Lavrov said Russia held the talks because it was important for someone to directly express to Hamas the views of the international Quartet on the Middle East.
That grouping, including the United States, the European Union and the United Nations as well as Russia, issued a declaration shortly after the Hamas election victory in January calling on it to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept existing international commitments of the Palestinians Authority.
The Russian foreign minister said he and his colleagues conveyed Moscow's commitment to the Quartet statement and said it would be in the interest of the Palestinian people if Hamas accepted its terms as well.
Though he said he expected no overnight transformation by Hamas, Lavrov said the Hamas team in Moscow said it would respect the authority of elected Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas, and would consider endorsing the Quartet's 2003 road map to a two-state Middle East peace accord:
"We also heard from them that they would be ready to express their position on the road map, and to hopefully endorse the road map as drafted by the Quartet without any reservations to be added to this road map," he said. "They also stated their readiness to consider joining the well-known Arab initiative which was adopted as a proposal by Saudi Arabia at the Arab League summit in Beirut."
The Arab League summit of March 2002 offered the prospect of region-wide normalization of relations with Israel, if the Jewish state withdrew to its 1967 borders.
The Quartet road map, stalled since its introduction three years ago, calls for a sequence of confidence building measures by Israel and the Palestinians leading to a final peace accord over a three year span.
Acceptance of both plans implies recognition of Israel, which Hamas since its election win, has steadfastly ruled out.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Bush administration's understanding is that Hamas made no commitment one way or another to either the road map or the Arab League plan during the talks with the Russians, and said the United States sees no softening of the Hamas position.
He said a review continues on all aspects of the U.S. aid program to the Palestinians, though administration officials have made clear that humanitarian aid will continue through the United Nations and other agencies.
Lavrov said Russia has similar intentions and said Hamas has promised that outside aid will be spent in a transparent manner and that it is willing to allow an international monitoring mechanism to assure there is no diversion of funds.