With Jimmy Carter once again touring the Middle East and meeting with Hamas, Laura Rozen of ForeignPolicy.com wonders whether President Obama has a "Carter problem":
When Fox News reported today from Gaza that former President Jimmy Carter plans to urge President Barack Obama to take the Palestinian militant group Hamas off the U.S. terrorist list in meetings later this week, Washington Democrats and the Obama administration collectively cringed.
"The president has addressed Hamas questions, including in the Egypt speech," an administraton official said. "[We] won’t have more to say about this."
"Just like with President Clinton, Carter is becoming a huge problem and a growing concern for Obama," a Washington Middle East hand said. "They are very pissed with him."
After observing Lebanon’s elections, Carter visited Damascus last week and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, as well as exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal. This week, he met with Israeli settlers in the West Bank and toured Gaza with top Hamas leader Ismail Haniya as his guide. His trip to Damascus came a day ahead of that of Obama Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell.
Carter’s objectives in Gaza, a Washington Middle East expert familiar with the matter told The Cable, are "to open up Gaza, and to see what he can do to pave the way to some [sort of] engagement between Hamas and the U.S.," the expert said, on condition of anonymity, cautioning that he didn’t think any such engagement would happen anytime soon. "And to see whether Hamas can shift its position, and the U.S. can shift its position. … I think he is smart enough to realize they aren’t going to come off the terror list."
"Don’t forget people in Gaza were spreading rumors last week that Carter was bringing Hamas a letter from Obama," the expert added. "It’s absurd, but it made the rounds for a day."
Don’t overreact to an unconfirmed news report, agreed veteran U.S. Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller. "This is Jimmy Carter being Jimmy Carter," Miller said by email. "I didn’t see any confirmation that Carter intends to ask the administration to remove Hamas from the terrorism list; more likely he’ll urge Obama at the right time to consider opening up a dialogue with Hamas."
"But that’s a key to an empty room right now given everything that Obama is trying to do with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ] Netanyahu and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas," Miller continued. "In fact, the way to lose both of them and much of Congress to boot would be to do precisely what the former president recommends."