PARIS, (AP) – France has had informal contacts with Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that rules Gaza, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday.
Kouchner, speaking on Europe-1 radio, was confirming a report in the daily Le Figaro that quoted a retired diplomat as saying he met with Hamas leaders a month ago.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. Fatah had dominated Palestinian politics for decades, but was trounced by Hamas in 2006 parliamentary elections. In June 2007, the militant Islamic group took Gaza by force, triggering a crisis among Palestinians.
France has had contacts with Hamas leaders “for several months,” Kouchner said, adding that France was not in formal negotiations. “These are not relations, they are contacts. We must be able to talk if we want to play a role,” the minister said.
A former ambassador to Iraq, Yves Aubin de la Messuziere, told Le Figaro that he had met a month ago in Gaza with Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas strongman, and Ismael Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister. Apparently, de la Messuziere was acting on behalf of the French government.
“They assured (me) that they were ready to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, which amounts to an indirect recognition of Israel,” the diplomat was quoted as saying.
“They said they were ready to stop suicide attacks and, what surprised me is that the Islamist leaders recognize the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas,” the moderate Palestinian president and Fatah’s leader, de la Messuziere said. Abbas’ West Bank government is in a bitter rivalry with the Hamas regime in Gaza.
Kouchner, in the radio interview, had a nuanced response, saying that Hamas was “more flexible than before” but for the moment does not recognize the state of Israel.
Kouchner said the talks with Hamas were not held on a regular basis.
“We must try, but we must do so clearly and with (full knowledge) of our partners,” Kouchner said.
In June, during an official visit to Israel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy “will go to Palestine for several hours,” the foreign minister said, adding that Sarkozy will not be meeting with Hamas.
During his visit to Israel this month to honor the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, U.S. President George W. Bush predicted al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas will one day be defeated as Muslims “recognize the emptiness of the terrorists’ vision and the injustice of their cause.”
Bush hopes to achieve a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel before he leaves office in January, and international Mideast envoy Tony Blair is working toward that end.