AFP: Palestinian Hamas militants are serving as the "proxy warriors" for an Iran bent on destroying Israel and destabilizing the Middle East, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said here.
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Palestinian Hamas militants are serving as the "proxy warriors" for an Iran bent on destroying Israel and destabilizing the Middle East, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said here.
In a speech Tuesday to the American Jewish Committee in Washington that underscored growing US concerns about Tehran, Rice mentioned Iran as not just a threat in the Palestinian territories, but also in Lebanon, Iraq and even in Afghanistan.
Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz said after talks with Rice on Monday that an Iran-led radical front in the Middle East is becoming more powerful and weaknesses in it need to be found.
Rice vowed to pursue US efforts to isolate Hamas which she said refused to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and respect all previous Palestinian agreements with Israel.
"But perhaps of deepest concern, the leaders of Hamas are increasingly serving as the proxy warriors of an Iranian regime that is destabilizing the region, seeking a nuclear capability and proclaiming its desire to destroy Israel," Rice told the group's annual meeting.
She did not elaborate.
Iran is one of the most vocal backers of the Islamic Resistance Movement and pledged millions of dollars in 2006 to help a Hamas government through a funding drought caused by Western aid cuts.
But Tehran has always insisted its support for Palestinian militant groups is moral in nature and does not extend to arming or training fighters.
Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in June last year after ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction, which remains in power in the West Bank.
Fatah and Hamas had served in a national unity government after Hamas won elections in 2006.
The United States backs the Palestinian Authority in new peace negotiations with Israel that were launched last November, and denounces Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Rice called for international support for the Palestinian Authority, which she said had "the will to fight terrorism" and "the desire to govern effectively" but did not yet have the means.
She echoed remarks by President George W. Bush who said Tuesday he was still hopeful of a Middle East peace deal before he left office in January but warned that Hamas could "undermine" the effort.
Rice also vowed that Washington would continue to tighten controls on Iran's alleged misuse of the international financial system for terrorism and weapons proliferation.
The US Treasury last October slapped sanctions on Iran's elite Quds Force, accused by the US of being a supporter of terrorism, as well as the country's Revolutionary Guards, said to be a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
"We made designations for instance of the Quds Force, we made designations of the Revolutionary Guard," Rice recalled. "You can believe that we're going to continue to make designations."
In her speech, Rice spoke of a new "belt of extremism" that ranges from Hamas, to the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah in Lebanon to radicals in Iraq and "radicals even increasingly in places like Afghanistan."
It is "supported overwhelmingly by Iran and to a certain extent Syria, but particularly Iran, gives this conflict a regional dimension it has not had before," Rice said.
Critics say the US-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab, has emboldened non-Arab Iran and its Shiite Muslim allies throughout the region.