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Published: Sunday, 2/26/2006

Hamas Russia trip won t be what U.S. wants

Washington all but wished good luck to the Kremlin in hosting Hamas, a group the United States and many of its allies consider terroristic.

This is a big mistake.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this month to discuss the Kremlin s invitation to Hamas for talks after the militant group won in the Palestinian election.

The State Department announced that she had won assurances from Russia that it would send a message that Hamas should change if it wants international support.

The idea of the Russians talking Hamas into staying out of trouble is ridiculous.

Moscow is in no position to give such assurances.

The Kremlin has only one manner of influencing Hamas that the United States doesn t. That s by playing the very card the United States doesn t want in play: anti-Americanism.

Irked by the U.S. support of the budding democracies in what Russia considers its backyard, notably in Ukraine and Georgia, the Kremlin is bound to play the anti-Americanism card if only to restore its former influence in the Middle East.

Hamas is fully aware of this and is anticipating the meeting with the Russians while gloating about the failing U.S. attempt to isolate it politically and economically.

After the collapse of the U.S. policy in the region, a vacuum has formed, and this vacuum is to be filled up by other states. We believe that Russia is in a position to do that, Musa Abu Marzook, deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau, told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television.

This interview hit the spot in Russia and was immediately translated and disseminated by a host of Russian semiofficial news media.

Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman, told reporters a Hamas delegation headed by the group s exiled leader, Khaled Mashal, and his deputy, Mr. Marzook, will visit Russia early in March. He said the visit is aimed at ending the political and economic siege imposed on the Palestinian people, China s official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the timing of the visit, Russian media said.

There is no doubt that the Kremlin will use the U.S. blessing to proceed with the meeting and to cast itself as an international peacemaker and as a formidable force in the Middle East.

Secretary Rice recently said that Russia is nothing like what the Soviet Union used to be.

She is wrong.

Moscow sells its weapons wherever the United States doesn t including Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

Awash in revenues from oil and natural gas exports, the Kremlin, can afford to sponsor Hamas much as the Soviet Union used to support anti-U.S. regimes. Hamas, which is in no position to pay right now, can pay back only by playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East.

Besides helping Russia s admitted political goal of countering the U.S. influence in the world, Hamas also will be helping the Kremlin economically by disrupting the stability of the Middle East, which, in turn, will cause nervous buyers to pay more for crude oil. The resulting increase in oil prices will further boost the Kremlin s coffers.

It is regrettable that Washington while urging Arab nations to isolate Iran failed to at least demand isolation of Hamas.



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