EU warns Hamas of need for change

The European Union warned Hamas on Monday that it will have to fundamentally change to win support from the 25-nation bloc, which has long been the Palestinians’ biggest aid donor.

Separately EU officials met a senior delegation from Iran to discuss the mounting crisis over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, their first encounter since talks broke down earlier this month.

The warning to Hamas came from EU foreign ministers, who were meeting to discuss the militant Islamic group’s shock election win last week and the increased turmoil it implies for the Middle East peace process.

“They have been a terrorist organisation. They have to change their methods and they have to accept that violence is incompatible with democracy,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Agence France-Presse.

“They have to also recognise Israel because in the end what we are trying to do is construct a two-state model and to do that, you have to talk to the other,” he added.

The Brussels meeting was the first chance for the bloc’s ministers to talk since the long-ruling Fatah faction lost last week’s Palestinian parliamentary election.

The EU is unlikely to take any rash decisions. Diplomats stress it has time to wait for a Palestinian government to be formed and that, in the meantime, the Palestinian Authority head, Fateh’s Mahmud Abbas, remains its key contact.

“We would like very much to support president Abbas at this period of time,” said Solana.
“This is what we are going to do today.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said the EU had “three or four weeks” to work out its response to the new situation.

“We hope that Hamas will be so wise as to change its policy,” he said. But he added: “Our position is crystal clear—no business with a regime that promotes terrorist attacks.”

Since 2003 the EU has given about €500-million ($613-million) to the Palestinians annually. In addition to its financial assistance, the EU is also one of the four sponsors of the stalled Middle East peace roadmap.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned starkly at the weekend it would be “unthinkable” for the EU to continue to fund the Palestinian Authority if Hamas—which is on an EU terrorism blacklist—did not renounce violence against Israel.

“A change has to take place. Otherwise it will be very difficult to relate with them,” added Solana.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the talks on Hamas, EU officials met a senior delegation from Iran to discuss the mounting crisis over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

EU talks with Iran broke down earlier this month after Tehran broke the United Nations seals on a key nuclear plant in breach of a November 2004 international accord.

The Brussels meeting on Iran, while not involving ministers, is the first since negotiations with Tehran collapsed.

Tehran is tightlipped on what it wants from the talks, at which its team is headed by senior nuclear negotiator Javad Vaidi, saying only that “the doors for negotiation are open”.

But the Europeans have apparently given up on negotiations and now appear set for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council, amid fears that Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

There is no immediate threat of UN sanctions against Iran but Solana warned: “Their position has to change ... They know how to change. They know what they have to change.”

The EU talks come three days ahead of a meeting on Thursday of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which could in theory refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

On Monday evening EU leaders were due to gather in London with the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain to discuss, Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

The United States and Europeans are expected to try to convince Russia and China to support their bid at the IAEA to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council. -AFP

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