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Russia's Lavrov warns against isolating Hamas

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Russia's foreign minister warned Thursday against isolating Hamas, and said the international community should respect the Islamic group as a parliamentary majority party.
MOSCOW, July 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister warned Thursday against isolating Hamas, and said the international community should respect the Islamic group as a parliamentary majority party.

In an interview on Mideast issues with the Kuwait News Agency, Sergei Lavrov also defended Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, and urged for a consensus between sectarian groups in Iraq.

Discussing the latest developments in the Palestinian territories, which underwent a de facto split after Hamas's violent overthrow of Gaza, the Russian diplomat said: "the difficulties of the occupation are only exacerbated by the divide between Gaza and the West Bank. How and when this can be overcome is not yet clear."

He said that Russia, while fully supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as a legitimately elected leader, is also against isolating Hamas.

"Whatever you think about Hamas, they are, in our opinion, an influential political entity, which has a majority in the parliament and enjoys strong support... in the West Bank as well as in Gaza. We think that boycotting Hamas or trying to exclude it from the political process would be a counterproductive move boding ill for the future," he said.

He called for facilitating future dialog between Hamas and pro-presidential Fatah, two rival groups that both resist Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and warned against deploying international troops in the Palestinian territories without the consent of both groups.

Lavrov said Abbas's proposal to hold an early election was a good solution to the crisis.

The diplomat highlighted the role of the Quartet - Russia, the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations - in defusing the situation, and called for greater activity on the Lebanese and Syrian peace efforts. The Quartet gathered on Thursday for talks at a ministerial level, chaired by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Lisbon.

Asked what Russia's role in Iraqi peace measures could be, Lavrov stressed that Russia had been calling for an international conference on Iraq ever since 2003.

"At that point, this idea did not receive support - first of all due to some of our partners' tactical considerations," he said.

He said collective international monitoring of an Iraqi settlement, agreed upon at the latest conference on Iraq on May 4, should start as soon as possible.

"Iraqis still play the main role in the settlement. This goal can be achieved only through the broadest dialog between all Iraqis of all leading political parties, and ethnic and sectarian groups," he said.

On the subject of international fears that Iran will develop nuclear weapons, Lavrov said Russia actively seeks a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East, but also said that the world should recognize Iran's right to have access to nuclear energy. All related issues should be solved through the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Agency for Atomic Energy, he said.

"We commend the apparent positive changes in Iran's contacts with the IAEA, aimed at clarifying the remaining issues concerning Tehran's past nuclear activities. This is the main issue, and our priority right now would be to ensure that these contacts are safe, and that the agency delivers results," he said.

"The ultimate goal is to recover confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. For the international community, this will mean active development of political, economic, and other cooperation with Iran - which will help Iran make full use of its right to atomic energy," the foreign minister said.

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