MOSCOW, March 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister Wednesday said the international community should maintain diplomatic links with radical Palestinian group Hamas to revitalize the stalled Mideast peace process.
Sergei Lavrov told Russian daily Vremya Novostei: "[Global] efforts toward isolation of Hamas are counterproductive."
Lavrov said a scenario of "financial strangulation," including refusal of aid to the Palestinian National Authority, would be fruitless, adding that Hamas would most likely win another landslide victory in new elections or bring to power extremist forces within the organization, leading to chaos in Palestinian territory.
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has stalled since Hamas came to power in January 25 parliamentary elections. Russia has been trying to persuade Hamas to meet previous Palestinian leaders' agreements with Israel and resume the political process under the Road Map peace plan.
Lavrov said that Hamas leaders had been sending "positive signals" in relation to the Middle East settlement under the Road Map peace plan proposed by the "quartet" of international mediators comprising the UN, EU, U.S., and Russia.
"These signals continue. I am not going to speculate over Hamas' tactics toward all directions proposed by the quartet, but the [Hamas leaders] have been thinking about it. The point is that Hamas should become an equal partner for peace talks."
Russia hosted a Hamas delegation in Moscow earlier this year, triggering an angry reaction in some quarters in Israel and the West. Unlike many Western countries, Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Lavrov said that Hamas leaders had expressed their will to consider the possibility of the implementation of the Road Map plan, which envisages recognition of Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas as the President of the Palestine National Authority.
"I think that in the next two weeks we will see some practical steps on these directions," he said
In Moscow, Hamas officials reportedly reiterated their support for the Mideast "road map" peace plan, and said international aid, which forms the backbone of the PNA budget, would be spent only on social programs.
Lavrov said the quartet would gather for next round of talks on the Middle East after the Israeli parliamentarian elections, set for March 28.
"The goal is to review the strategy to deal with a situation in which Hamas is most likely to have an overwhelming majority in a new government," he said, adding that ways of providing aid to Palestinians should also be discussed.
The radical Islamic movement is expected to form a new government soon. It has come under international pressure to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and meet commitments made by previous Palestinian leaders.
"It would be a mistake to deny aid for Palestinians only on the reason that they had elected Hamas as a legitimate government via democratic elections," Lavrov said, adding that the EU and the UN shared Russia's position, but the United States had a tougher stance on the issue.
"I believe that this problem can be solved given a mechanism for transparent monitoring has been agreed," he said.
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The growing outright rivalry between the United States and China gives Russia more foreign policy weight, enabling it to assume the role of a balancer. So far it has been doing so rather skillfully. Today it may participate in a joint naval exercise with China that Beijing positions as outwardly anti-American. But tomorrow it can team up with the naval forces of the Old World.