Powell again extends olive branch to Hamas

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The Bush administration has again assured Hamas that it would not be targeted for elimination in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States would continue to seek dialogue to persuade Hamas and other Palestinian insurgency groups to end their attacks on Israel. Powell said such an approach has been part of the U.S.-led war against terrorism and efforts to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I didn't call for an all-out war against [Hamas]," Powell said. "I'm asking Hamas [to stop attacks against Israel]."

In an interview with Egypt's Nile Television on Tuesday, Powell rejected the prospect of a crackdown on Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Instead, he stressed dialogue with Hamas and an effort to persuade the group to end attacks against Israel.

"Hamas has said they are entering a temporary ceasefire," Powell said. "That's allowed the violence to go down a little bit. It's not enough. We need leaders who are strong enough and have enough vision to say I am only going to try to achieve my objectives through peaceful political means and not through the use of terror and violence."

Later, State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker confirmed that Powell was not calling for the elimination of Hamas. Reeker said Powell has expressed the need for the PA to "dismantle the capabilities, the capacity, of these terrorist organizations to perpetrate these actions like what we saw today."

Powell's approach appeared to differ from that of President George Bush. Bush has insisted that such Palestinian insurgency groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad must be dismantled to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"The Palestinian Authority must act now to dismantle terrorist networks that perpetuate such attacks, and to prevent future attacks," White House Deputy Press Secretary Claire Buchan said. "Clearly, dismantling terrorist networks is a very high priority, the highest priority, and all parties have a responsibility to address terror."

It was the second time in as many months that Powell has reassured Hamas that the United States does not intend to eliminate the insurgency movement. In July, the U.S. secretary said Hamas could remain as a legitimate group by shedding its military wing and focusing on what Powell termed the organization's "good works."

"The president is aware of Powell's approach and has approved this," a U.S. official said. "Bush's approach is meant to satisfy the Israelis and the counter-terrorist community while Powell's approach is meant to satisfy the Palestinians and their Arab allies."

Powell said his strategy to convince insurgency groups to end their attacks against Israel is meant to advance the roadmap for the establishment of a Palestinian state. "It is time to end the use of terror as a way of achieving a political objective," Powell said. "It's part of the solution for the Middle East. It's also part of the global campaign against terrorism."

U.S. officials said the Bush administration has decided not to press the Palestinian Authority to dismantle Hamas and other Palestinian insurgency groups. They said the administration has determined that the PA is too weak to undertake such a mission.

In the interview, Powell acknowledged that Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to plan attacks from Damascus. In May, the secretary said Syria had shut down offices of insurgency groups.

"We know that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others are plotting these kinds of actions in Damascus," Powell said. "Maybe they're doing it a little more quietly than they used to, and maybe they're not in the same office building they used to be. But they are still there and they are damaging the prospects for peace."

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