U.S. troops’ role in Mideast dismissed

The White House yesterday stepped up its rhetoric against Hamas, but distanced itself from an influential Republican senator’s suggestion that U.S. troops pursue the terrorist group.

“Make no mistake:Hamas is an enemy to the reformists in the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people, who deserve a state,” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters aboard Air Force One.

But Mr. Fleischer disagreed with Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who suggested on “Fox News Sunday” that U.S. forces pursue Hamas in the Middle East.

“The president’s message is that the best security comes from the Israelis and Palestinians working together to fight terror,” Mr. Fleischer said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher dismissed the idea of U.S. troops in the Middle East as “above and beyond” the administration’s policy of sending in monitors. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf was dispatched to the region during the weekend with a team of monitors to keep track of the peace process.

Mr. Boucher emphasized that Palestinians, not Americans, must crack down on Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“The Palestinian Authority needs to set up a security force that can take control of the area, that can defeat the terrorists and do everything they can to defeat those who want to deny the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.

But Mr. Lugar said the Palestinian Authority under its new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, “simply does not have security forces that are adequate to take on Hamas, quite apart from even the territories being suggested for his security now.”

Asked whether that meant “international forces ought to be going after Hamas,” Mr. Lugar said: “That may be the conclusion.”

While dismissing the notion of deploying U.S. troops to the Middle East, the administration agreed that something needs to be done about Palestinian terrorist groups that are trying to derail the peace process. Peace efforts got a boost this month when President Bush attended several Middle East summits.

“Hamas is clearly an obstacle to peace,” Mr. Boucher said. “Along with the other violent groups — Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Palestinian Islamic Jihad — they’ve continued acts of terrorism, acts of violence that have resulted in death and destruction.”

Mr. Fleischer agreed.

“There are threats to the Israelis, threats to the Palestinians,” he said. “They come principally from Hamas and from the other groups of a rejectionist nature, a rejectionist front, who have no interest in peace, who do not support creation of a Palestinian state, and who represent a threat to the Palestinian people, who deserve a better way of life.”

Mr. Lugar suggested on Sunday that U.S. troops, perhaps as part of a NATO or U.N. force, could go after terrorist groups in the Middle East.

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