WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said in remarks to air on Sunday that his upcoming visit to the Middle East probably would include a meeting in Syria with leaders of the militant group Hamas.
“I’ve not confirmed our itinerary yet for the Syrian visit, but it’s likely that I will be meeting with the Hamas leaders,” Carter said, according to a transcript of his interview on ABC News’ “This Week.”
The Bush administration and close U.S. ally Israel oppose the meeting, which would take place during Carter’s nine-day trip to the Middle East that begins on Sunday.
U.S. policy has been to isolate Hamas, which seized control of Gaza last June, and to bolster pro-Western President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules the West Bank and is in U.S.-sponsored talks with the Israelis.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who sought Carter’s counsel on his own previous Arab-Israeli peacemaking efforts ahead of a U.S.-hosted Middle East conference in Annapolis last November, called Hamas a “terrorist organization” on Friday.
“I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process,” said Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
“I think someone should be meeting with Hamas to see what we can do to encourage them to be cooperative,” he added.
Carter, who served one term as president from 1977 to 1981, would be one of the most prominent Americans to meet with the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal.
“We’ll be meeting with the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Saudi Arabians, and with the whole gamut of people who might have to play a crucial role in any future peace agreement that involves the Middle East,” Carter said of his trip.
The 83-year-old former president has a long history of being involved in the Middle East. In 1978 he succeeded in negotiating the Camp David Accords that paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt, but he has increasingly taken positions critical of Israel.
In a 2006 book, he described Israeli policy in the occupied territories as “a system of apartheid.”
Reporting by Xavier Briand, editing by Stacey Joyce