Solana denies holding secret talks with Hamas

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The Independent Online

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, yesterday retracted an admission that he had held secret meetings with Hamas, which was put on Europe's list of banned terrorist organisations last year.

Mr Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign and security policy, had told the BBC that meetings had taken place with the Palestinian militants when there seemed to be an opportunity to push for progress. "I have had direct contact with Hamas but not in the last few days," he said.

But a statement issued by his office later said that "at no time did the high representative, nor his office, hold direct contacts with Hamas or any other organisations appearing on the EU 'terrorist list'." It also said: "Any mention of contacts or meetings with Hamas referred to soundings and impressions conveyed to him but gathered by governments and other parties on the ground."

Though the episode was seen by diplomats as a gaffe, some politicians argued that conflicts could not be resolved without dialogue. They cited the example of the British government, which admitted in the 1990s that it had been sending messages to the IRA despite saying publicly that it had not.

Mr Solana had told the BBC that any contact had been made months ago. "Those meetings were not long. They were to pass a clear message of what the international community wants." The message was that if "they want to help the people in Palestine, they have to lay down the violence and become a political party," he said.