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Hamas has links to al-Qaida, the French foreign minister said.

Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday that he believes Hamas has been in contact with al-Qaida and that such links long pre-date the group’s takeover of the Gaza Strip last month.

“I think Hamas did not wait for this extreme situation — the current terrible situation in Gaza — to have contacts with al-Qaida,” Kouchner told reporters. “And it would perhaps be too simple to think that we, the international community, are responsible. Now let’s not accuse the West of being responsible for the link that extremist organizations maintain among themselves.”

Kouchner appeared to be responding to comments by his Italian counterpart, Massimo D’Alema, who said that the West risked pushing Hamas into an alliance with al-Qaida. Kouchner indicated that Western efforts to isolate Hamas are not responsible for its alliance with al-Qaida.

Hamas denies there is an al-Qaida presence in the Palestinian Authority, though some of its officials privately acknowledge the existence of sleeper cells from Osama bin Laden’s international network in Gaza.

The United States wants another meeting with Iran to discuss Iraq. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday the United States wants to address allegations that Iranian officials are backing insurgents in Iraq. “We think that given the situation in Iraq and given Iran’s continued behavior that is leading to further instability in Iraq, that it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting to directly convey to the Iranian authorities that if they wish to see a more stable, secure, peaceful Iraq, which is what they have said they would like to see, that they need to change their behavior,” McCormack said. U.S. and Iranian officials met in Egypt in May, the first such official meeting in 27 years.

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