Carter 'quite at ease' about meeting Hamas' Mashaal
Former US president arrives in Israel as part of week-long Mideast tour, defends his scheduled Damascus meeting with Hamas leader. 'It's very important that at least someone meet with the Hamas leaders to try to induce them to stop all attacks against innocent civilians in Israel and cooperate with Fatah,' he says
Former US president Jimmy Carter, who arrived in Israel Sunday as part of a 'study mission' that runs until April 21, met with the parents of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit at Jerusalem's King David Hotel.
Carter met earlier with President Shimon Peres shortly after landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. The president criticized Carter's plans to meet with exiled Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus this weekend.
Following reports of the scheduled talks with Mashaal, Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not meet with Carter due to what the Likud chairman's associate said was the former US president's "anti-Israeli positions in recent years".
'You can't always get prerequisites'
On Saturday Carter told ABC News' "This Week" that he felt "quite at ease" about meeting Hamas leaders over the objections of Washington because the Palestinian group is essential to a future peace with Israel.
"It's very important that at least someone meet with the Hamas leaders to express their views, to ascertain what flexibility they have, to try to induce them to stop all attacks against innocent civilians in Israel and to cooperate with the Fatah as a group that unites the Palestinians," Carter said during the interview, which was aired Sunday.
"There's no doubt in anyone's mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," he said.
The former US president said that during his Mideast tour he'd be meeting Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudi Arabians and others "who might have to play a crucial role in any future peace agreement that involves the Middle East."
Asked whether it was right to meet a group that has not renounced violence or recognized Israel, he said, "Well, you can't always get prerequisites adopted by other people before you even talk to them."
Aviram Zino and news agencies contributed to the report