U.S. says 'disappointed' by Palestinian unity deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday it was let down by a unity pact agreed to between the Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and said it could make peace efforts difficult.

"The timing was troubling, and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing.

"This could seriously complicate our efforts - not just our efforts but the efforts of the parties to extend their negotiations."

Psaki said U.S. officials had expressed their concerns to the Palestinians.

"It's hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist," she said.

Psaki said the longtime U.S. expectations of the Palestinians in the negotiating process had not changed: that they should unambiguously commit to nonviolence, recognize the existence of Israel and honor previous agreements.

"What we're going to watch and see here is what happens over the coming hours and days to see what steps are taken by the Palestinians," she said.

The Palestinian move, coming after a series of failed efforts to reconcile with Hamas after seven years of internal bickering, envisions a unity government within five weeks and national elections six months later.

Israel said after the announcement that Abbas had chosen Hamas over peace, and canceled a session of U.S.-brokered talks with the Palestinians that had been scheduled for Wednesday night in Jerusalem.

Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Palestinian announcement. She said Kerry had not spoken with Abbas but "our team on the ground has."

Israeli Channel 2 TV said Netanyahu would convene an emergency session of his security cabinet on Thursday to discuss his response.

Along with the United States and the European Union, Israel views Hamas as a terrorist organization, and says Abbas' efforts to unify with the group show he is not serious about extending the troubled negotiations.

The talks, aimed at ending Israel's decades-old conflict with the Palestinians and establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, are scheduled to end on April 29.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Sandra Maler and Prudence Crowther)