Sarkozy to FM: Hamas talks were mistake that won't happen again
France FM confirmed Le Figaro report of contacts with senior Hamas officials in Gaza Strip.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday that a meeting between a French diplomat and senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip is a mistake that will not happen again.
During a meeting in Paris, the president reassured Livni that France has no intention of entering into any kind of dialogue with the Islamist organization.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed a report in the French daily Le Figaro last week quoting a retired ambassador who it said had met senior Hamas officials about a month ago.
"It would be difficult to deny it since the man who is in touch with them has spoken," Kouchner told Europe 1 radio.
"Having contacts is necessary. We had some before the invasion [takeover by Hamas] of Gaza," he added.
Kouchner's ministry said the talks between former ambassador Yves Aubin de la Messuziere and Hamas were a private initiative.
"The trip to Gaza by Mr Yves Aubin de la Messuziere ... took place on an individual basis, as is the case for personalities from many countries, and recently President Carter," spokeswoman Pascale Andreani told reporters.
Le Figaro said de la Messuziere met Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar. He told the newspaper that the Hamas officials had repeated an offer made by Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal of a long-term accommodation with Israel in its pre-1967 borders.
"They said they were prepared to stop suicide attacks and what surprised me was that the Islamist leaders recognize the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas," he said.
The U.S. State Department criticized France's decision to have contacts with Hamas, although it did not echo U.S. President George W. Bush's recent suggestion that negotiating with such groups is tantamount to appeasement.
"We don't think it is wise or appropriate," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington. The United States classifies Hamas as a terrorist group.
Meanwhile, Israel played down France's announcement of contacts with Hamas. "We have been in touch with the highest levels of the French government and we have received assurances that there is no change in the position of France vis-a-vis Hamas," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said. "France continues to adhere to the conditions of the Quartet."
The Quartet of Middle East mediators, made up of the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia, demands that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel, and abide by previous agreements, as a precondition for diplomatic contacts.
"They have yet to meet those conditions and certainly our position with respect to contacts with Hamas has not changed," McCormack at the U.S. State Department said.
U.S.-brokered peace talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have made little tangible progress, and few observers expect them to reach a deal by the end of the year as planned.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri confirmed that leaders of the group had met a French representative and envoys from other European countries, and said that it showed Europe realized it was it was "the wrong policy to isolate and boycott Hamas".
Kouchner played down the talks between France and Hamas.
"They are not relations. They are contacts," he said.
"We have to be able to speak to each other if we want to play a role, if we want our emissaries to go to Gaza, firstly. But the real discussion is between Palestinians. We have always said that."
Hamas has offered a six-month truce in Gaza if Israel were to lift an embargo on the territory and reopen border crossings, an offer Suleiman presented to Israeli officials last week.