Senior US diplomat in Ramallah as Abbas hints he might quit

Published February 25th, 2006 - 11:47 GMT

A senior American envoy and Palestinian leaders on Saturday discussed ways of dealing with Hamas, including threats by the West to freeze financial aid to the Palestinians.  U.S. State Department official David Welch met in the West Bank town of Ramallah with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. Later in the day, Welch was to hold talks with President Abbas.


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the international community not to halt aid to the Palestinians once a Hamas government takes over sometime next month.


The meetings in Ramallah came a day after Hamas declared that its talks in Moscow would take place early next month.


In an interview with Israel's Channel 10 TV on Friday, Abbas clarified it was he, and not Hamas, who would set Palestinian policy. "The president decides policy," he said. Abbas added that Hamas was working to halt rocket attacks on Israel.


In another interview, Abbas urged Israel and the international community to avoid pushing Hamas "into a corner", and to give it time to moderate its policies of refusing to recognize Israel or renounce violence before mounting any boycott, the Irish Independent reported Saturday on its Website.


Abbas made the comments in an interview to ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby that will be aired Sunday. Abbas stressed that Hamas would make its position in power "compatible with international policies," and hailed the movement's "wise and rational" Prime Minister designate Ismail Haniyeh as "flexible and diplomatic."


"They will listen to many things that will make them think about their political position. I think they are now responsible and in order to assume responsibilities their policies have to be compatible with international policies," Abbas was quoted as saying.


He added that Hamas' tour of Arab states and Russia is likely to be influential in persuading the movement to renounce violence and recognize Israel.


When asked if he will step down if he can't deliver what he wants in terms of the peace process, Abbas replied: "We could reach a point where I cannot perform my duty - then I will not continue sitting in this place, against and in spite of my convictions. If I can do something I will continue, otherwise I won't."

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