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White House urges Carter not to meet Hamas leader

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  • Hamas official: Ex-President Carter set to meet Hamas leader in Syria next week
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From Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has urged former President Jimmy Carter not to go forward with plans to meet with the leader of Hamas, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

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Former President Carter may meet with the leader of Hamas next week in Syria.

Carter may meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal next week in Damascus, Syria, during a trip to the Mideast.

The meeting originally was to include a delegation of world leaders, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former South African President Nelson Mandela, but the group issued a statement Wednesday saying it was postponing its visit.

That statement was issued shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Annan.

However, a Hamas official said Thursday that Carter plans to go ahead with the meeting.

Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006, split with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party last year after seizing control of Gaza.

Washington considers Hamas a terrorist organization and has led a movement in the international community to isolate it.

Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said she could not confirm or deny whether any meeting might take place during Carter's trip.

Mandela launched the council of world leaders known as "The Elders." The group is visiting Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia on a peace mission.

In a statement last month, the group said its mission is to "help people understand the urgency of peace."

In a statement Wednesday, the leaders said they "had planned a visit to the region in April to meet and listen to representatives from government, civil society, business and the public in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia."

"The Elders will continue consultations with key leaders in the region and outside with the purpose of developing a comprehensive report, but have decided to postpone their visit."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday the department would provide Carter with assistance on his trip, as is customary for a former president.

But he added the department "would not participate in the planning or scheduling" or in any meetings with Hamas officials, and he counseled Carter against such talks.

"U.S. policy is that Hamas is a terrorist organization," McCormack said. "We don't believe it is in the interest of our policy or in the interest of peace to have such a meeting."

McCormack said that Assistant Secretary David Welch urged Carter in a phone call not to take part in the meeting, arguing doing so would be a detriment to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

After leaving office in 1981, Carter has run the Atlanta, Georgia-based Carter Center to promote global peace, health, democracy and human rights. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

The former president drew fire from Israel and Jewish groups over his 2006 book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," for his criticism of Israel's policy, which he said can be compared to apartheid.

In 2006, the Rev. Jesse Jackson met Meshaal during a visit to Syria against Bush administration wishes.

Meshaal lives in exile in Damascus to avoid Israel arresting or killing him.

A meeting between Carter and Meshaal would take place amid calls from many experts in the United States and Israel to open up a dialogue with Hamas. They claim the policy of isolation is not working.

A poll this year in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz found that 64 percent of Israelis favor direct talks with Hamas. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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