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Clinton Cautious on Palestinian Reconciliation Efforts

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday reconciliation efforts between the main Palestinian factions will not mean progress for the region unless Hamas accepts international terms for peace talks with Israel. Clinton spoke to VOA in advance of her first trip to the Middle East as Secretary beginning late Saturday.

Clinton acknowledges her trip comes at a sensitive time in both Israeli and Palestinian politics, but says the circumstances will not affect the Obama administration's commitment to seeking a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

In an interview with VOA, the Secretary said she will go to the international donor conference on Gaza reconstruction in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt Monday with a significant U.S. pledge - widely reported to be $900 million in new assistance.

But she made clear the aid package will not benefit the radical Islamic movement Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007.

She said the United States wants to strengthen a Palestinian partner committed to the peace-making principles of the international Middle East Quartet including recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence. She said aid money will only be spent if it is clear U.S. goals will not be undermined or subverted.

In that regard, she sounded a cautious note about the Cairo agreement Thursday between Hamas and the mainstream Fatah movement aimed at creating a new Palestinian unity government.

"I believe that it's important, if there is some reconciliation and a move toward unified authority, that it's very clear that Hamas knows the conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet, by the Arab [League] summit," she said. "And they must renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by previous commitments. Otherwise, I don't think it will result in the kind of positive step forward either for the Palestinian people, or as a vehicle for a reinvigorated effort to obtain peace that leads to a Palestinian state."

In addition to attending the donors conference, Clinton will meet in Sharm el-Sheikh with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and several Arab and European foreign ministers on efforts to advance the peace process.

She'll also confer there with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been in the region since Tuesday and has met with the principals in Israel's post-election coalition negotiations, including Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

The right-leaning Israeli Likud party leader has not endorsed the two-state solution that is the basis of U.S. policy, but Clinton side-stepped a question as to whether the prospect of a Netanyahu-led government was a matter of concern.

"Our policy remains, as it is the policy of the Quartet, and the Arab League peace initiative, to move toward a two-state solution," she said. "And there is not yet a government in Israel, so clearly we have not had an opportunity to consult with anyone. But we will certainly convey our strong commitment to a two-state solution."

Clinton will spend two days in Jerusalem and commute to nearby Ramallah in the West Bank to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Later in the week she attends a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, and ends the trip with talks with Turkish officials in Ankara.