Report: Meshal Says Obama Has No Choice but to Talk to Hamas

Damascus-based political bureau chief tells Sky News that Hamas ready for dialogue with new administration.

Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal told Sky News on Saturday that he is willing to hold talks with President-elect Barak Obama, and that he is challenging the newly elected leader to follow through on past statements indicating a willingness to sit down with America's chief adversaries on the world stage.

"[Obama] should know he has duties to the United States and in the whole world and in hotspots especially in the Middle East," Meshal told Sky. "Yes we are ready for dialogue with President Obama and with the new American administration with an open mind, on the basis that the American administration respects our rights and our options," Meshal said.

The Damascus-based Islamist leader told the British television network that unlike U.S. policy under George W. Bush, the Obama administration will have no choice but to engage Hamas if it seeks to adequately address the issues at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The American administration, if they want to deal with the region, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have no other option than deal with Hamas because we are a real force on the ground, effective," Meshal told Sky.

"And we are a movement that won a majority of votes in the election. Second of all, it's not right that Hamas poses any danger to anyone."

Earlier Friday, Hamas strongman Mahmoud Zahar also said he hoped that Obama's victory would open a new page in relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

However, Zahar said he does not expect immediate change in U.S policy toward Hamas. The Bush administration is boycotting the Palestinian Islamist group, along with most of the international community.

Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel. Last year, Hamas seized Gaza by force, and Zahar was instrumental in the takeover.

Zahar said Friday that, "We hope, we hope, that Obama opens a new page with the world, including the Muslim world."

But citing what he believes is undue Israeli influence on U.S. policy, he said he doesn't expect Obama to talk to Hamas, at least at the start of his presidency.

In its lead editorial published in Saturday editions, the official state Syrian newspaper Tishreen is calling on U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to ignore the advice of the outgoing Bush administration if Washington is intent on turning a new page in its relations with the Arab world.

According to Israel Radio, if Obama wishes to foment real change, it is incumbent on him to root out all remnants of President Bush's past policies, Tishreen wrote in its Saturday editorial.

"It is especially important to the Arabs for Washington to once again assume its role as an honest broker in the Middle East," the Tishreen editorial read as relayed by Israel Radio.

Syria's state news agency reported on Friday that the country's president sent a telegram congratulating Obama on winning the U.S. presidential elections.

SANA said President Bashar Assad expressed hope that with Obama's victory, constructive dialogue will prevail and overcome difficulties that stood as an obstacle to actual progress toward peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

U.S.-Syrian relations plummeted after a U.S. helicopter raid last month into Syria near Iraq's border.

U.S. officials said the raid targeted a militant leader. Damascus maintained eight civilians were killed, and closed the U.S. cultural center and an American school in Damascus in retaliation.

Assad's congratulations for Obama followed those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday. Ahmadinejad said that he expected the president-elect to change current U.S. foreign policy.

Meanwhile, a Syrian analyst on Friday said Syria would be prepared to restrain the militant activities of Hezbollah and Hamas if a U.S. administration led by President-elect Barack Obama shifts its policy toward Damascus.

In an article published on Friday on the Asia Times Web site, Syrian analyst Sami Mubayed called on Obama to endorse the renewed peace talks with Israel to ensure their success.

Mubayed, whose analyses are considered the official standpoint of the Syrian government, urged Obama to "normalize" relations between Washington and Damascus.

Such "normalization" of ties would include dispatching a new U.S. ambassador to Damascus, the first since the deterioration of the states' ties in 2005.

Syria would also demand that the economic sanctions against it be dropped, a change in Western rhetoric toward Damascus and compensation for the recent deadly U.S. air strike in which eight Syrians were killed.

Damascus also seeks a further role in matters regarding Iraq. "Obama must recognize that no problem can be solved in the Middle East without Syria," Mubayed wrote.

In exchange for U.S. implementation of these demands, Syria would be ready to use its weight in the region against the militant activities of Hezbollah and Hamas, and would work in tandem with Western powers to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

Mubayed said that Syria has nicknamed Obama "Abu Hussein" - in reference to the president-elect's middle name.

"When all this is done, Syria will be ready to open its arms to Abu Hussein and to accept him maybe as an honored guest in Damascus, as we did with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton," wrote Mubayad.