Hamas Takes Tough Line on Israel During Moscow Talks

The Islamic militant group Hamas maintained its hard-line stance against Israel, heading into its first talks with a Mideast Quartet member Friday in Moscow. The political leader of Hamas told reporters at the start of a three-day visit to Russia that the group's refusal to recognize Israel is not open to discussion.

Expectations for a major breakthrough from Russia's unprecedented talks with Hamas were already low, before exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal ruled out any revision of his groups stance on Israel's right to exist. But even meager hopes were dashed when Mashaal said on arrival that, as far as Hamas is concerned, the issue of Israel's recognition has already been determined.

Speaking through a translator, in comments broadcast on Russian television, Mashaal says his six-member delegation came to Moscow to hold discussions without any preconditions.

But Russian officials, who came under heavy criticism for making the offer of talks, with what the United States, Israel and European Union say is as a terrorist group, have said they will insist that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist, as well as renounce violence and accept the Israeli-Palestinian road map for peace.

That message was always going to be a hard sell, according to independent political analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky in Moscow.

Radzikhovsky told Russia's Echo Moscow radio that Hamas has spent the past 20 years attacking Israel and that there is little he can see that will make them stop now.

Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, is seen as trying to gain some measure of international standing before forming a government, following its win in January's Palestinian elections. For its part, Russia is trying to revive its role in the Middle East peace process.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to head Moscow's delegation to the talks, which will be closely watched by Israel and the United States.

After initial concern, Israel has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the talks. In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said he hopes the message Moscow will send Hamas is that its way of doing business is, "unacceptable."