Nobel Peace Laureate Ahtisaari Wants Hamas in Mideast Talks

Former Finnish president calls on EU, Russia and UN to commit themselves to solving crises in Middle East.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said Wednesday that Hamas should be included in a negotiating process to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Speaking to lawmakers in Helsinki, Ahtisaari said the international cooperation necessary to tackle the global economic crisis had created new openings to solve conflict in the Middle East.

"The financial crisis has also had a positive impact. [It] has created a historically new and unique opportunity to solve long-term conflicts, particularly in the Middle East," Ahtisaari said.

But he cautioned that the international community cannot choose its negotiating partners if it is serious about achieving peace.

"All parties which command political support among the people should sit around the negotiating table. In the Middle East this means opening a dialogue with Hamas," the 2008 Peace Prize winner said. "At the same time, we must support dialogue among the Palestinians in order to strengthen their national agenda."

Hamas, which controls Gaza, is listed as a terrorist group by the 27-nation European Union and the United States. Last month, it said power sharing talks with its Palestinian rival Fatah were stuck on disagreements over the political program of a future Palestinian government.

Ahtisaari said that the candor and the initiatives of the new U.S. administration, both in the Middle East and Afghanistan, is a call to others to be equally active to help increase cooperation.

"The EU, Russia and the United Nations must truly commit themselves so that we can solve the crises that stretch from Israel and Palestine all the way to Iraq and Iran," Ahtisaari said. "If we want to achieve permanent results we must consider the whole region encompassing the Middle East."

The former Finnish president was speaking to lawmakers who met to honor his work.

In 2007, his Crisis Management Initiative team initiated secret meetings in Finland between Iraqi Sunni and Shiite groups to agree on a road map to peace. The talks were based on peacemaking efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

In August 2005, Ahtisaari helped end 30 years of fighting between Aceh rebels and the Indonesian government with peace talks in Finland, which he initiated and mediated with CMI.