WASHINGTON (AFP) — White House hopeful Barack Obama Tuesday slammed last week's meeting between former US president Jimmy Carter and the exiled leader of Hamas militants as "a bad idea."
"As I said before I think it was a bad idea for president Carter to meet with Hamas without having recognized Israel or denounced terrorism or acknowledged previous agreements given that they are not heads of state," he told a Pittsburgh press conference.
"To sit down with them, I think it gave them a legitimacy that was unnecessary."
But he told journalists that the stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must be relaunched.
"I think it is very important for the United States to actively engage in helping bringing about negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he said.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas "has indicated his willingness to make every effort to sit down with" Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert," Obama said.
"I think that's where our energy should go. If we strengthen Abbas, if we are clear in improving the day to day lives of Palestinians then I think that will do more than anything to encourage Hamas to renounce violence rather than simply sitting down with them."
Carter said on Monday that the Islamist Hamas movement told him it would recognize Israel's right to live in peace if a deal is reached and approved by a Palestinian vote.
He was speaking after two meetings in Damascus with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal which have angered Israel and the United States, which consider the movement a terror group despite its victory in 2006 elections.
In his meetings with senior Hamas leaders from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Syria, Carter was unable though to secure a ceasefire or a prisoner exchange for an Israeli soldier seized by Gaza militants in 2006.
And just hours later Meshaal told a press conference in Damascus that Hamas would not recognize the Jewish state and would insist on the right of some 4.5 million Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.
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