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US Willing To Discuss European Ideas on Palestinian Aid


The United States said Thursday it is open to discussing European ideas for avoiding a Palestinian financial collapse in talks with other members of the international Quartet on the Middle East next week in New York. Officials say Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also discuss with her French counterpart a possible new U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria.

Officials here say the Bush administration remains adamantly opposed to the provision of direct aid to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, a group the United States considers a terrorist organization.

But they say Secretary Rice is nonetheless willing to discuss European ideas for staving off a financial crisis in the West Bank and Gaza, when she convenes with her Quartet partners next Tuesday.

The Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations - endorsed a cut-off of direct aid to the Palestinian Authority in January after the election victory of Hamas, which spurned Quartet appeals to accept Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism, and accept previous Palestinian peace commitments.

Although some Arab countries and Iran have pledged substitute aid, the Palestinian Authority has been unable to meet two monthly payrolls for its 165,000 employees.

It has complained that commercial banks it normally does business with are refusing to deliver pledged money out of fear they could be hit with U.S. anti-terrorism sanctions.

News reports say Britain and France have proposed trust-fund arrangements, to be managed by the World Bank or United Nations, to pay some Palestinian salaries and maintain basic services such as health and education.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there had been no change in the U.S. attitude toward the new Palestinian government. But he said the Bush administration is aware of the European ideas and prepared to discuss them, if they are raised in at the Quartet meeting.

"We are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian areas," said Sean McCormack. "We've increased our level of aid, humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. But we aren't going to provide money to a terrorist organization. It's a matter of law, it's a matter of policy, it's a matter of principle. So we look forward to the discussions on Tuesday. If this particular topic comes up, I'm sure that we'll engage on it."

Officials say Secretary Rice will have a separate New York meeting Tuesday with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to discuss the less-than-full compliance by Syria with U.N. resolutions calling on it to end interference in Lebanese affairs.

Syria withdrew uniformed military personnel from Lebanon last year under terms of Security Council resolution 15-59 sponsored by the United States and France.

But U.S. officials say Syria has not fully complied with either that resolution or the subsequent Security Council measure of a year ago setting up a commission to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters here said Syria has failed to live up to the intent of the resolutions to treat Lebanon as a sovereign neighbor, noting that, for instance, there is no Syrian embassy in Beirut.

The official would not say if a new resolution would call for punitive action against Syria, saying that the U.S. and French intent is to, in his words, "maintain the focus on the issue."