US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday expressed doubt that rival Palestinian factions will clinch a deal on a unity government, but wanted to keep options open if they do.
"We doubt there will be such a unity agreement. There doesn't seem to be one in store, but we don't want to bind our hands in the event that such an agreement is reached," Clinton told the House appropriations committee.
With talks between the US-backed Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement set to resume shortly in Egypt, Clinton told lawmakers that any unity government would have to meet high standards of transparency.
"No aid will flow to Hamas or any entity controlled by Hamas," she promised concerned lawmakers as Clinton asked for $840 million in supplemental funds for the Palestinians this year.
The chief US diplomat promised that Washington would not deal with any unity government that failed to meet international principles for peace such as halting violence against Israel and recognizing Israel's right to exist.
Clinton did not spell out whether President Barack Obama's administration would refuse to deal with a unity government unless every Hamas member in it embraced that set of principles. "If the government complies with it, that is what we're looking for," Clinton said.
A delegation from the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza is already in Cairo ahead of the next round of unity talks with secular rivals Fatah, which Egyptian state media say will start on Sunday.
Hamas and Fatah adjourned their last round of meetings in early April, with Fatah saying it wished to discuss new proposals by Egyptian mediators with the leadership.
With hopes of a unity government fading, Egypt has proposed that the two sides instead coordinate their rival administrations - in Gaza and the West Bank's Ramallah - through a joint committee.
Several rounds of talks between the long-time rivals have failed since Hamas, winners of a 2006 parliamentary election, seized the Gaza Strip.
The factions had agreed to form committees to try to resolve their differences and form a unity transitional government that would prepare for a general election early next year.
But the talks were adjourned after they failed to agree on a new government, with Hamas insisting it would not commit to previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.