"We need to talk to them"A former U.S. ambassador who met with Hamas leaders on a recent Middle East trip says the Bush administration urgently needs more diplomacy.
By Kathleen Haley
Feb. 25, 2006 | Robert Keeley is an outspoken critic of George W. Bush's Middle East policies. He also believes in the importance of diplomacy. That's why the retired U.S. diplomat met with Middle East leaders that the Bush administration condemns.
Keeley, a former U.S. ambassador to Greece, Zimbabwe and Mauritius, was one of seven members of a delegation that observed the Palestinian elections last month and traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They were the first former American diplomats to meet with Hamas members. They also met with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League.
The delegation was organized by the Council for the National Interest, a group that is highly critical of U.S. policy in the Middle East, in particular what it regards as America's unbalanced support for Israel. CNI, which contains both a nonprofit lobby and an educational foundation, was founded by Paul Findley, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who lost his seat in 1982 after he was targeted by AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israeli lobby.
Salon talked with Keeley about his visit to the Middle East in a recent telephone interview.
Your delegation met with major Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud al-Zahar, Shaikh Naif Rajoub and Khaled Mashaal. Your group also met with many other leaders in the Middle East, including the presidents of Lebanon and Syria. How was your delegation received by these leaders?
Well, they were, I would say, more than welcoming. They were eager to have Americans they could talk to. We were horrified in a way that we had had such easy access. Because that means that other people did not have access, or are not bothering to try to get access. These people are rather desperate to get their message out, and to talk to Americans. I suppose they thought we might be sympathetic, but they didn't necessarily know exactly what our views were. They gave us lots of time; they were never hurried.
Was that how you were also received by the Hamas leaders? Were they also eager [to meet with you]?
Yes, they were. Hamas is on the list of terrorist organizations, meaning that official Americans can't talk to them. I don't know how much the U.S. media people talk to them -- I don't think enough. They've decided they want to go into politics. They have made attacks on Israel -- violent attacks, sometimes against civilians, what we label as terrorism. I don't dispute that. But they declared a truce a year ago, and they've honored that. So I think they've earned what they won. And they were very eager to show a moderate face -- that they've decided to go into politics and try to achieve their goals through peaceful means, rather than through violence. I would hope that they get a broad spectrum of people joining in, so that it isn't just a Hamas government. There are other tendencies and other viewpoints amongst the Palestinians.
my SISTER WRITES: It's a copyright violation for you to post the entire Salon interview
with Dad on your site. You need to get permission to do so and there
would probably be a charge. I suggest you post the first couple of
grafs, then add a link to Salon URL for people who want to read more. So goto http://salon.com for the complete interview or email me....I suggested creative commons and Salon used my photograph with out permission. COPYwrite laws....a family affair... more will be reviewed...
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