Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a press conference in Madrid Thursday that he intends on inviting the leaders of the Palestinian terror group to Moscow, Itar-Tass news agency said.
Hamas politburo Khaled Mashaal welcomed the Russian initiative saying group representatives will travel to Moscow should Putin address an official invitation.
“If an invitation is addressed we will accept it. We welcome the courageous Russian position and the declarations of Mr. Putin … in which he does not classify us a terror organization,” AFP quoted Mashaal as saying.
He added that Russia’s position “will lead to a certain equilibrium” in international relations especially that “America’s influence has started to wane because of numerous impasses in which the American administration is entangled.”
Putin was quoted as telling a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Madrid, where he was on a visit, that "Russia is maintaining contacts with the Hamas organization and intends in the near future to invite the leadership of this organization to Moscow."
Putin reiterated that Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, and urged the global community to work with a Hamas-led Palestinian government.
"Hamas has arrived at the doors of power through legitimate elections," Putin said. "We must respect the Palestinian people and we have to look for solutions for the Palestinian people, for the international community, and also for Israel. Contacts with Hamas must continue," he added.
Putin's declaration contradicts the stance presented by Moscow so far at the international Quartet discussions. His stance also comes as a surprise after he had expressed a firm position in the past about not talking to the terror groups that carried out the bombings in Moscow. Now he is inviting a group recognized as a terror organization by the world to visit his country.
Rice: Hamas must recognize Jewish state
Ever since Hamas' crushing victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections on January 25, Israel has been trying to form a united international front against the group.
The Hamas issue was at the focus of a meeting held Wednesday between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a joint press conference, held at the State Department in Washington, Livni said that if Hamas would be part of the Palestinian government, it would be a terror state.
"When an entity, a state, is being led by terrorists, the meaning is that this entity, this authority, this state, is going to transfer into a terror state," Livni said, adding that Israel would not be able to maintain contacts with such an authority.
Rice, meanwhile, said the optimal solution would be recognition of Israel by any Palestinian government. Israel is a member of the United Nations, Rice said, and stressed Hamas must recognize the Jewish state and renounce terror.
Turning her attention to Israeli fund transfers to the Palestinian Authority, Livni said the latest fund transfer was a one-time decision that will be reexamined in the future. Israeli law prevents the transfer of funds that may be used for terrorism, she said.
Regarding the peace process, Rice expressed her hope negotiations may be renewed on the basis of the Road Map peace initiative, noting the U.S. hopes for a future peace partner on the Palestinian side. The secretary of state said Palestinians voted for a change but still wish to live peacefully.
'Russia must play a decisive role in Iran issue'
Hamas leadership ended its first visit to Egypt since the elections, which is part of a round of visits planned by the group in a number of Arab countries. The visit began Saturday and will also include Sudan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The visits to the Persian Gulf are also expected to be dedicated to presenting Hamas' stance and the policy to raise funds for a Palestinian government headed by Hamas, as well as an attempt to enlist these countries' support against the international front Israel is trying to form against a Hamas-led government.
Meanwhile, Spain's prime minister said during the joint press conference with Putin that the Russian president must play a decisive role in finding an answer to the international community's standoff with Iran over that country's nuclear ambitions.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also called on Putin to lend his weight to efforts to bring about Middle East peace, and appealed for an end to the violence that has swept the Muslim world over European newspapers' decision to publish caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Ali Waked and Roee Nahmias contributed to the report