France said on Monday it had held talks with Hamas, in an apparent softening of its support for the US-led policy of isolating the Palestinian Islamist group that seized control of the Gaza Strip last year.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed a report in the French daily Le Figaro quoting a retired ambassador who it said had met senior Hamas officials about a month ago.
"It would be difficult to deny it since the man who is in touch with them has spoken," Kouchner told Europe 1 radio.
"Having contacts is necessary. We had some before the invasion of Gaza."
The move could annoy Washington, which was irritated by former US President Jimmy Carter's meeting in April with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
US-brokered peace talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have made little tangible progress, and few observers expect them to reach a deal by the end of the year as planned.
Kouchner played down the talks between France and Hamas: "They are not relations. They are contacts… We have to be able to speak to each other if we want to play a role, if we want our emissaries to go to Gaza, firstly. But the real discussion is between Palestinians. We have always said that."
France's envoy, former ambassador Yves Aubin de La Messuziere, told Le Figaro that Hamas officials had repeated to him Meshaal's offer of a long-term accommodation with the Jewish state in its pre-1967 war borders.
Le Figaro said the Hamas leaders he had met included Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar."They said they were prepared to stop suicide attacks and what surprised me was that the Islamist leaders recognize the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas," he said.
"In all the offices I went to, his picture hung next to those of Hamas officials," he added.
Last month, Israel dismissed a Hamas proposal for a six-month Gaza Strip truce during which an embargo on the territory would be lifted.