Rice warns Iran not to finance Hamas-led PA

By News Agencies


Shvat 20, 5766

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned Iran and other Middle East powers on Friday of the consequences for the region of giving money to a Palestinian government led by Hamas.

She also expressed doubt that the militant Islamic group could raise badly needed international financing unless it changes its policies.

"I would hope that any state that is considering funding Hamas, a Hamas-led government, would think about the implications of that for the Middle East" and for the goal of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Rice said.

In an interview with a panel of Arab journalists, Rice delivered a new and blunt warning to Iran.

"Iran has its own troubles with the international community, and it might want to think twice about enhancing those troubles" by bankrolling Hamas, Rice said.

The United States considers Hamas a terrorist group and Iran a patron of terrorism. It has no official dealings with either. Hamas just won a parliamentary election in the Palestinian territories and is to be sworn in this weekend.

Rice's trip to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates next week is expected to be dominated by discussion of Hamas' surprise election victory and the separate issue of Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Her itinerary excludes Jerusalem and the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. Visits there would be awkward due to uncertainty over the makeup of the new Palestinian government and the unsettled political situation in Israel caused by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke and that country's coming elections.

In the meanwhile, the United States has asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million in U.S. aid as part of a review of all U.S. aid for the Palestinians which began soon after the militant group Hamas' surprise win in elections last month.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the caretaker government of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to return the $50 million, which was given to the PA last year for infrastructure projects after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

"In the interests of seeing that these funds not potentially make their way into the coffers of a future Palestinian government (made up of Hamas) ... we have asked for it to be returned and the Palestinian Authority has agreed," McCormack told reporters.
The United States and Israel have ruled out direct funding for a Hamas-led government, but Rice reiterated Friday that the United States will continue to finance humanitarian projects for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority gets most of its approximately $1.9 billion (-1.6 billion) annual budget from overseas sources. Without money from the United States, Israel and perhaps Europe, a Hamas-led government would be nearly broke.

Hamas leaders have said they will look elsewhere for money and are expected to appeal to Arab states and Iran.

"It will be very interesting to see if that $1.9 billion (-1.6 billion) is available," Rice said with evident skepticism.

The top U.S. diplomat noted that Middle Eastern governments including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states have signed on to the goal of peace.

She implied that those governments should be pressuring Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist. Egypt, she said, has been sending Hamas the right message.

"Let me put it this way," Rice said. "I think there's only one reason for contact at this point, and that's to make clear what the message is."

Hamas has refused to reconsider its anti-Israel policies since winning its surprise victory last month. The organization has claimed responsibility for dozens of suicide bombings against Israel but also has a successful political arm.

The United States is reviewing all aid to the Palestinians because of the Hamas victory. Although she again urged Hamas to change, she did not sound optimistic for a quick turnaround.

The Palestinian Authority still is headed by Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party lost to Hamas in the legislative elections.

Rice said she has no regrets about supporting Palestinian elections despite the result.
She said the same is true elsewhere in the Middle East, where elections may yield governments or policies unfriendly to the United States.

Supporting self-determination, Rice said, "was the only moral thing to do."

Although protests spawned by publication of cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad continued Friday, that subject did not come up during the interview with outlets including the Saudi News Agency, Abu Dhabi TV and Al-Arabiya TV.

Rice was also not asked about new photos from the prisoner abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.