Thursday, March 5, 2009

UK ready for talks with Hezbollah

• Overtures to political wing of militant Shia group
• Officials deny precedent set for contact with Hamas

Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Thursday 5 March 2009

"Britain overturned its policy on a key Middle East issue yesterday by agreeing to talk to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement which fights Israel and is banned as a terrorist organisation by the US.

Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister, told MPs the government would authorise "carefully selected" contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah, which is represented in the Lebanese parliament. Other EU countries, including France, already deal with the group.

The move, urged privately by British diplomats for some time, may be partially intended to encourage the US to follow suit as Barack Obama's administration pursues a fresh approach of engagement with parties shunned by George Bush.

But Foreign Office officials said the decision would not create a precedent for talking to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement in control of the Gaza Strip, although calls have increased recently for the government to do just that......."

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