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Egypt best placed to talk to Hamas - Miliband

CAIRO (Reuters) - Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Wednesday that talking to the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was “the right thing to do” but Egypt and other parties were best placed to do it.

In an interview with Reuters in Cairo, where Hamas and the rival Fatah group prepared on Wednesday for a national dialogue on a new Palestinian government, Miliband said Egypt was acting on behalf of the whole world in its dealings with Hamas.

Britain, along with the United States and the European Union, calls Hamas a terrorist organisation and refuses to have talks with the group, which won Palestinian elections in 2006 and has controlled Gaza since 2007.

Egypt, the only Arab state bordering the Gaza Strip, has taken the lead in trying to mediate a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel after the Israeli assault on the enclave which killed some 1,300 Palestinians in December and January.

It is also the host for a dialogue of Palestinian political groups formally opening in Cairo on Thursday.

Miliband said: “Egypt has been nominated ... to speak to Hamas on behalf of the Arab League but actually on behalf of the whole world. Others speak to Hamas. That’s the right thing to do and I think we should let the Egyptians take this forward.”


Miliband said he saw no contradiction between supporting Egyptian mediation and refusing to follow suit in dealing directly with Hamas.

“We think the Egyptians are the right people to do it and they are doing a good job, and for obvious reasons, not least for geographical proximity, they have a very clear and strong interest in the stability ... of Gaza,” he said.

He said Britain and other European countries wanted to see the dialogue in Cairo result in a Palestinian government of non-partisan technocrats which could oversee reconstruction in Gaza and prepare the Palestinian territories for elections.

He said such a government would probably last 10 or 11 months but he declined to speculate on how the British or other allied governments would handle the post-election government.

“I think we should take this one step at a time. At the moment there isn’t a government that spans the West Bank and Gaza... It’s important to walk before we can run,” he said.

Asked what he expected from U.S. President Barack Obama’s active approach to Middle East diplomacy, he said the United States did not pay enough attention to the region in 2008, the last year of George W. Bush’s administration.

“More of the same is not enough. More of the same has not delivered peace or security or justice... People believe we are living through an important time,” he said.

“There is a widespread view in the Middle East that there needs to be a plan, not a process... That is a message that has been heard loud and clear,” he added.

Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine, editing by Mark Trevelyan