(AFP) – Apr 14, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The White House and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain Monday berated former president Jimmy Carter's plans to meet Hamas leaders, and Democrats also distanced themselves from him.
"The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
President George W. Bush "is not a supporter of having conversations with Hamas, and we have made that known," she said.
Carter has drawn fire also from Israeli officials over his apparent plans to meet with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal while in the Syrian capital Damascus later this week.
Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas -- which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and has ruled the Gaza Strip since seizing power there in June -- a terrorist organization.
McCain said any meeting by the former Democratic president with Hamas would be a "grave and dangerous mistake."
"Engaged in a campaign that deliberately targets innocent Israeli civilians, Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. President Carter is wrong to meet with Hamas, a terrorist group that has also killed innocent Americans."
The Arizona senator also attacked Democratic White House contender Barack Obama for declining "to take a stand" and clearly condemn Carter.
Obama and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton both called Hamas a "terrorist organization" that should remain ostracized until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.
Unless that happens, Obama told reporters Friday, "I don't think conversations with them would be fruitful."
But the Illinois senator also refused to denounce Carter's potential meeting in Damascus with Meshaal, arguing it was not up to him to dictate the former president's plans.
Carter is one of nearly 800 Democratic grandees known as "superdelegates" who look set to decide the party's presidential nomination. He has not declared a preference, but has dropped heavy hints in favor of Obama.
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said in a statement: "Hillary respects former president Carter but disagrees with his decision. She would not meet with Hamas without coordinating with Israel."
Carter, architect of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, defended
his planned talks with Meshaal as he kicked off a week-long trip to the Middle East on Sunday.
Carter told ABC News that he viewed Hamas's inclusion inpeace talks as "very important" and, while remaining vague about when he might meet the Palestinian group's leader, stressed he was not travelling as a US envoy.
"There's no doubt in anyone's mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the
relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," he said.
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