Annan Backs Russia on Hamas Talks

Daily News Article   —   Posted on February 14, 2006

(by Benny Avni, UNITED NATIONS – In apparent disagreement with President Bush, Secretary-General Annan yesterday indicated he was in accord with Russia and the European Union, believing there is an “opportunity” to transform the terrorist organization Hamas, which recently won the Palestinian elections, into a legitimate peace partner.

Mr. Bush did not mention the Palestinian Arab organization after meeting with the Turtle Bay chief in the White House, but privately he reportedly vowed never to deal with the terrorist group.

The growing rift between the principles of the Middle East steering group known as the Quartet, which includes America, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, was not apparent during the hour-long meeting yesterday, which, according to some diplomats, will be the last between the two men.

Other issues of disagreement were also glossed over, according to an official. Mr. Annan, for example, has in the past publicly criticized America’s contribution to ending the carnage in Darfur, Sudan. But while visiting the White House, Mr. Annan did not repeat his implied criticism, according to American and U.N. officials, nor did he ask for American troops to join a Sudan-bound force now envisioned under the U.N.’s umbrella.

And while newspapers yesterday cited a report by an independent U.N. expert on torture, Manfred Nowak, who called for the abolition of the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Bush reminded reporters that Mr. Nowak’s agency was itself discredited and had stained the United Nations. “We talked about U.N. reform, structural reform, management reform, as well as the reform of the Human Rights Commission,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Annan was more interested in international issues. “There is an opportunity here for Hamas to transform itself into a political party and work with the international community and the Israeli government,” Mr. Annan told reporters after his meeting with Mr. Bush. However, the terrorist group has to be transformed “along the lines the Quartet had discussed,” he said, which includes recognizing the state of Israel, disarming, and accepting all prior Palestinian Arab agreements.

Mr. Bush did not publicly address the Hamas issue yesterday, speaking instead about the “broader” Middle East. He was “optimistic,” he said, “that democracy and liberty will prevail” there. But privately, according to the website of the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Mr. Bush assured Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni in their meeting last week that he would never deal with Hamas representatives.

“Even if the entire world gives in, we will never change our position on Hamas,” the newspaper, relying on unidentified Israeli sources, quoted Mr. Bush as telling Ms. Livni. America will create an international front against Hamas, he vowed, adding, “We are not going to compromise on this. We will never talk to them or deal with them.”

Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Bush refused to invite the late Yasser Arafat to the White House, backing Prime Minister Sharon’s policy of shunning the terror leader. Arafat died after months of isolation in his Ramallah compound.

Israeli officials were livid last week after Russian president Putin surprised them by announcing he would invite Hamas representatives to talks in Moscow. France said it would support such talks, which could promote the quartet’s goals.

Europe’s position is “clear,” the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, said yesterday in an interview with the London-based al-Hayat. “As of now, we don’t have contacts with the Hamas, but we are waiting to see how the organization acts in the field, and how they will manage the Palestinian Authority’s institutions.”

Outgoing Palestinian Legislative Council members passed a series of last-minute laws yesterday, empowering Prime Minister Abbas and making it possible to revoke laws and even dissolve the new council. After its victory in parliamentary election, Hamas is expected to dominate the new council, which will convene for the first time on Saturday. “We are calling this a white coup d’etat,” an elected Hamas legislator from Ramallah, Mahmoud Ramahi, told The Jerusalem Post.

On Sudan, Mr. Annan said yesterday, “I’m very happy that we have agreed to work together on the Darfur issue, working with other governments from Europe, from Asia, and other regions, to ensure that we do have an effective security presence on the ground to protect [refugees] and ensure that humanitarian workers have access to those in need.”

Last week, however, Mr. Annan told reporters he would “share” with Mr. Bush “the needs that we have” on the new Sudan force, adding that rich countries, “and that will include the U.S.,” cannot delegate responsibilities – including contribution of assets and troops – to the third world.

He did not acknowledge that earlier, American ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton wrote to him that American military planners are ready to assist the U.N.’s peacekeeping department in preparing the transition from a force composed of 7,500 African Union troops to a U.N. force, which, according to Mr. Annan’s representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk, should be 22,000 troops strong. “Mr. Bush is seized with this issue,” Mr. Bolton wrote in the February 8 letter.

A Turtle Bay official familiar with peacekeeping operations, who asked for anonymity, said recently he doubted that more than 15,000 troops could be gathered. He also estimated it would take the peacekeeping department nine months to organize the force and send it to Sudan, where estimates say tens of thousands die each month.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at