LONDON (Reuters) - Hamas is ready to talk to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama but he must respect the Palestinian Islamist group’s “rights and options”, its leader Khaled Meshaal said in an interview on Saturday.
In a visit to Israel in July, Obama played down the chances of negotiating with Hamas unless the group renounced violence and recognised Israel’s right to exist.
Under the outgoing U.S. President George Bush, the United States refused to talk to Hamas.
“It’s a big change — political and psychological — and it is noteworthy and I congratulate President Obama,” Meshaal said in the interview with Sky News website from the Syrian capital Damascus.
“But as a result of the election and the change, he should know he has duties to the United States and in the whole world and in hotspots, especially in the Middle East.”
“...we are ready for dialogue with President Obama and with the new American administration with an open mind, on the basis that the American administration respects our rights and our options,” Meshaal told Sky.
He said the new U.S. administration would have no choice but to deal with Hamas if it was going to help resolve problems in the region.
“The American administration, if they want to deal with the region, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have no other option than deal with Hamas because we are a real force on the ground, effective,” he said.
“And we are a movement that won a majority of votes in the election. Second of all, it’s not right that Hamas poses any danger to anyone.”
Palestinians are split between President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas, which won a 2006 parliamentary election.
During his visit to Israel in July, Obama urged support for President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who support a two-state solution to the conflict.
He had dismayed Palestinian leaders the previous month when he said Jerusalem should be Israel’s “undivided” capital.
Palestinians want Arab East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future state. Obama later said he used “poor phrasing” when he made the remarks.
Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Islamist group continues to say it will not formally recognise Israel and its 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.