Former US President Jimmy Carter proudly announced on his website at the weekend that during his recent visit to Damascus he advised Hamas leader Khaled Mashal on what price to demand for hostage Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In a trip report posted to the website of The Carter Center, the former president described Mashal and the other Hamas men he met with as respectable, suit-wearing professionals, and pointedly suggested that none of them are religious fanatics.
Carter's visit to Lebanon and Syria last week, like a similar visit several months ago, greatly angered US officials and prominent American commentators.
In addition to meeting with a Syrian regime that Washington is trying to isolate, Carter made a point of sitting down with Hamas and requesting an audience with Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah refused the meeting.
Carter insists that Hamas and Hizballah are powerful and legitimate players on the Middle East stage that must be engaged in dialogue, while his critics say it is because of people like Carter that groups like Hamas gain legitimacy and become impossible to defeat.