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Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2007

U.S. official meets with Palestinian minister

March 21, 2007

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— The United States made its first contact with the new Hamas-Fatah coalition Tuesday, ending a yearlong diplomatic boycott of the Palestinian government.

The meeting between a U.S. diplomat and the Palestinian finance minister signaled a break in policy between Israel and its closest ally, and could mark a significant step toward ending a painful aid cutoff to the Palestinian government.

Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul in Jerusalem, made a six-mile drive to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he met with Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist and political independent.

"This meeting was part of my contacts with the international community," Fayyad told The Associated Press.

Fayyad, a former World Bank official, is leading Palestinian efforts to end international sanctions imposed a year ago when the Islamic militants of Hamas won an election and set up a government. The U.S., European Union and Israel label Hamas a terror group and ban contact with it.

Hamas still holds the most seats in the new unity Palestinian Cabinet, including the post of prime minister. But the addition of prominent figures like Fayyad to the team has brought into question the concept of boycotting the whole Cabinet, as Israel is doing.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the meeting is in accordance with U.S. policy.

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