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Rice, Russian official discuss West Asia, Iran

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    Washington, May 7 : U S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Tuesday's meeting of the quartet of West Asia mediators, and Iran, a State Department spokeswoman said.

    State Department spokeswoman Amanda Rogers-Harper yesterday said Rice and Lavrov spoke on the telephone about ''a number of issues regarding the quartet,'' as well as Tomorrow's meeting of the five permanent members of the U N Security Council on Iran.

    The ''quartet'' of West Asia peace brokers -- Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations -- are due to meet in New York on Tuesday.

    The gathering comes amid a growing rift between Moscow and Washington over aid to the Palestinian Authority after the election of Hamas, a militant group that refuses to recognize Israel and is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings.

    Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan plan to press the peace brokers to find ways to get funds to the authority, warning that a U S-led aid ban on Hamas could cause a ''humanitarian crisis.'' The United States, which views Hamas as a terrorist organization, and the European Union cut off direct financial aid for the authority after the elections. It has been unable to receive funds from abroad because local, regional and international banks fear sanctions by the United States.

    Russia responded to the action by offering urgent financial assistance to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    President George W Bush last week said the United States would not waver in its commitment to the security of Israel and would have no contact with Hamas leaders until the militant group recognises the Jewish state.

    ''Hamas must accept the demands of the international community to recognize Israel, disarm and reject terrorism, and stop blocking the path to peace,'' Bush said.

    Reuters

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