Barack Obama has distanced himself from Jimmy Carter, the former US president, who plans to meet Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, the radical Palestinian party, in Syria next week.
By Edward Luce in Washington
Mr Obama, who has come under fire from Hillary Clinton for promising to meet hostile leaders – including Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the president of Iran, and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela – if he is elected, said he drew the line at Mr Meshal.
“Senator Obama does not agree with President Carter’s decision because he does not support negotiations with Hamas until they renounce terrorism, recognise Israel’s right to exist, and abide by past agreements,” a spokesman for the Obama campaign said.
Mr Obama’s move follows attacks from rightwing pundits and Clinton supporters over his relationship with Jeremiah Wright. In the past, Wright, Mr Obama’s former pastor, has given rhetorical support to controversial groups, such as the Nation of Islam, which has been accused of anti-Semitism.
Opinion polls also show that some Americans still believe Mr Obama is a Muslim, in spite of his repeated public avowals of his Christian faith. Since the Wright scandal broke last month, Mr Obama has deployed more patriotic symbols at his rallies and made more frequent references to the American flag and God.
Unsurprisingly, he has also been criticised for his stance on Hamas. Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a centrist think-tank, said that many leading figures – including former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski – endorsed direct talks with Hamas.
“While knocking Carter’s efforts, Obama fails to articulate how any negotiation that does not include an attempt at a negotiation with Hamas will be stable enough to believe in,” said Mr Clemons. “What is his position today, if not one that has been influenced by special interests whose political weight has undermined the strategic interests of the US?”