US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets Wednesday with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh on the second leg of her five-day tour in the Middle East.
updated 2/22/2006 8:47:28 PM ET 2006-02-23T01:47:28

Saudi Arabia refused Wednesday to join an American effort to deny foreign aid to a Palestinian government led by Hamas, the second Arab ally in two days to rebuff Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“We wish not to link the international aid to the Palestinian people to considerations other than their dire humanitarian needs,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said through a translator.

Rice sat at Saud’s side as he spoke, as she had stood by on Tuesday when Saud’s Egyptian counterpart said it was premature to cut off aid to a Hamas-led government.

The top U.S. diplomat is making her first visit to the Middle East since Hamas swept Palestinian elections last month, stunning Washington and threatening the already fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Egypt calls for patience
Both Saud and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the world should not prejudge Hamas, signaling that the Arab world, like some European countries and Russia, is hedging its bets about whether and when to sever financial ties that keep the cash-strapped Palestinian government afloat.

The Saudis told the United States on Wednesday that they plan to continue sending about $15 million monthly to the Palestinian government, U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

The United States and the European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization. Arab nations generally have friendly relations with Hamas, which also has a successful political arm.

“For the United States, Hamas is a terrorist organization,” Rice told reporters. “We cannot give funding to a terrorist organization. It’s really that simple.”

Rice repeats humanitarian pledge
She repeated a pledge to continue sending money for humanitarian needs, as long as it does not go through a Hamas-led government. Washington has already moved to sever direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.

“We want the Palestinian people to have food and to have medicine, and Palestinian children to be immunized and not to have to live in squalid conditions,” Rice said.

Saud suggested Rice was drawing a distinction without a difference.

“How do we distinguish between humanitarian and nonhumanitarian aid?” he asked. “They need both ... and that is why we are continuing to help the Palestinians.”

U.S. officials say they did not expect promises from Arab allies that they would cut aid to the Palestinian government. The U.S. has also indicated that its humanitarian aid could be increased to offset the loss of direct donations to the Palestinian government.

Iran offered Wednesday to help finance a Hamas-run Palestinian Authority when U.S. aid dries up.

Comments from Brzezinski
In Washington, meanwhile, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, recommended the Bush administration stop trying to ostracize Hamas.

Hamas won a free election and “we have to judge that government by how it conducts itself and not on what it has been saying,” Brzezinski said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Our task is to see whether Hamas has the maturity and responsibility to evolve,” he said.

Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, appearing jointly with Brzezinski, stressed that Hamas is a terrorist group. “Let’s stick to the three principles,” Fischer said, referring to demands by the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia that Hamas recognize Israel’s existence and accept agreements the Palestinians have reached with Israel.

Israel this week froze the transfer of about $50 million in tax money it collects for the Palestinians each month, its first response to the inauguration of the new Hamas-led parliament Saturday.

Problems posed by Hamas’ defeat of the moderate Fatah leadership have dominated Rice’s diplomatic tour, although Iran’s nuclear ambitions, political turmoil in Lebanon and sectarian squabbling in Iraq were also on the agenda.

Rice to visit UAE
Rice is also visiting the United Arab Emirates, where she is expected to face outrage from another friendly Arab government over U.S. congressional opposition to a port deal backed by the Bush administration.

The Hamas predicament was placed in sharp relief earlier Wednesday in Egypt, where Rice issued no strong criticism of President Hosni Mubarak’s 25-year hold on autocratic power.

The United States needs Egypt as an intermediary and power broker in the effort to Hamas or change its behavior.

Rice met with Mubarak and political reform activists who said the leader is only paying lip service to the Bush administration’s call for greater democracy. Her first meeting of the trip was a rare session with Egypt’s intelligence chief, a veteran Mubarak aide with deep knowledge of Hamas.

Rice notes progress, or lack of it, in Egypt
Rice listened but asked few questions of the activists. She did not respond when rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim said the United States should tie more than $1 billion in U.S. annual aid to Egypt’s progress.

Ibrahim was convicted four years ago of tarnishing Egypt’s image by the same judge that convicted Mubarak political opponent Ayman Nour on separate charges in December. Rice met with Nour on her last visit to Egypt, in June, when she picked Cairo as the site for a major address on the value of democratic change in the Middle East. Nour is now in jail.

“A lot has happened since” her last visit, Rice told the group. “Some good, some not good.”

Egypt held elections last year that, although flawed, were viewed by Washington as a sign of progress. Mubarak has postponed a new round of elections for two years.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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