Hamas is ready to open talks with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who must deal with the Palestinian militant group if he wants to address the wider conflict in the Middle East, the group's leader said in an interview broadcast Saturday.
Khaled Mashaal said that Hamas is ready for dialogue with Obama and his new administration "on the basis that the American administration respects our rights and our options."
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since seizing power by force in June 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.
The administration of President George W. Bush has boycotted the Islamic militants, as has most of the international community. Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel.
"The American administration, if they want to deal with the region, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict, they have no other option than deal with Hamas because we are a real force on the ground, effective," Mashaal told Sky News from Damascus, Syria.
The exiled militant leader said that the election of a U.S. president with African roots was "a big change — political and psychological" and congratulated him on his victory.
Denis McDonough, senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, said Hamas had to change its policies before it could engage in any talks.
"President-elect Obama said throughout the campaign that he will only talk with Hamas if it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel's right to exist and agrees to abide by past agreements," McDonough said.
Obama visited Israel and the West Bank in July, meeting Israeli leaders and Abbas and traveling to an Israeli town that had been hit by Hamas rockets from Gaza.