(CNN) -- Former President Carter very politely denied Wednesday that the secretary of state or anyone else in her department had warned him against meeting with Hamas leaders during his recent trip to the Middle East.
Former President Carter held meetings with exiled Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal on Friday.
"President Carter has the greatest respect for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and believes her to be a truthful person," his spokeswoman, Deanna Congileo, said Wednesday in a statement.
"However, perhaps inadvertently, she is continuing to make a statement that is not true. No one in the State Department or any other department of the U.S. government ever asked him to refrain from his recent visit to the Middle East or even suggested that he not meet with Syrian President Assad or leaders of Hamas."
Before departing on the April 13 through 22 trip to Nepal, Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, "President Carter placed a telephone call to Ms. Rice to describe his itinerary and to inform her of his intended conversations. She was in Europe, and her deputy returned his call," the statement said.
"They had a very pleasant discussion for about 15 minutes, during which he never made any of the negative or cautionary comments described above. He never talked to anyone else."
Carter was responding to an assertion made Tuesday in Kuwait City by Rice, who told reporters in response to a question, "I want to be very clear. We counseled President Carter against coming to -- against going to the region, and particularly against having contacts with Hamas."
She added, "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas, and we certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help the Palestinians who actually are devoted to peace."
On April 14, she told The Associated Press in Montgomery, Alabama, that she had not personally spoken with Carter about his trip, "but we have counseled against it. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and it's an organization that's not committed to peace. And I don't think it's ever going to be committed to peace."
In notes posted on the Carter Center Web site, the former president said he understands why Israel and other governments are reluctant to meet with Hamas leaders.
"They have not yet agreed to accept Israel's peaceful existence; they have not renounced violence; and they do not accept previous peace agreements," he said.
"In our judgment, Hamas should accept all three points, but we do not believe peace is likely, and we are certain peace is not sustainable unless a way can be found to ensure that Hamas will not disrupt the peace negotiations.
"The current strategy of isolating and suppressing Hamas and persecuting the people of Gaza is not working. It only exacerbates the cycle of violence, and latest polls show that it increases the relative popularity of Hamas throughout Palestine. Some feel that my meeting with Hamas legitimized them, but their legitimacy came when a plurality of the Palestinian people voted for them in the 2006 elections, which I observed."
Polls show that nearly two-thirds of Israelis support direct Israel-Hamas talks, he said. E-mail to a friend
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