Cheney in J'lem: U.S. will never pressure Israel to take security risks
U.S. Vice President on Mideast tour; Saudi king urges U.S. to press Israel on peace with Palestinians.
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Israel on Saturday in an effort to bolster the recently relaunched peace talks with the Palestinians, and vowed the U.S. would never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security.
"America's commitment to Israel's security is enduring and unshakable, as is Israel's right to protect itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other attacks from forces dedicated to Israel's destruction," Cheney said ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security," Cheney added.
He also said the United States wants to see a new beginning for the Palestinian people and is committed to pursuing Mideast peace deal.
"We want to see a resolution to the conflict, an end to the terrorism that has caused so much grief to Israelis, and a new beginning for the Palestinian people," he said.
Cheney attended a brief, non-denominational Easter service Sunday at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
During the day, he planned talks with other Israeli leaders, then was to travel to the West Bank town of Ramallah for meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The vice president also said on Saturday that, "we must not and will not ignore darkening shadows of the situation in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and Iran, and the threats these areas pose to Israel."
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called Cheney's comments "incitement and completely biased in favor of the Israeli occupation."
He said it "confirms the United States is a partner to Israel in its war against our people and against the Gaza Strip."
In welcoming Cheney, Olmert mentioned Iran first when outlining the subjects he planned to discuss with the vice president. Israel considers Iran to be the greatest threat to its survival, and rejects Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is not designed to produce arms.
Olmert also said Israel was "anxious to carry on the peace negotiations with the Palestinians" and was watching the behavior of Syria and of Hezbollah.
Cheney said the U.S. role was not to "dictate the outcome" of the peace talks. "Reaching the necessary agreement will require tough decisions and painful concessions by both sides but America is committed to moving the process forward," Cheney said.
On Easter Sunday, after attending a church service, Cheney will head to the West Bank for talks in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
He will also meet with Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride said Bush asked the vice president to visit Israel to discuss significant regional issues in advance of the president's return trip in May to mark Israel's 60th anniversary.
"The vice president's discussions will involve the ways forward in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism and protect its citizenry," she said. "The vice president also looks forward to visiting the Palestinian territories to reaffirm the president's commitment to the current efforts towards the two-state solution and efforts to strengthen Palestinian institutions."
Saudi king urges U.S. to press Israel on peace with Palestinians
On Friday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged Cheney to pressure Israel to seal a peace deal with the Palestinians before President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009, official Saudi sources said. Cheney arrived Friday in Saudi Arabia where he met Abdullah at the king's al-Janadriya horse farm near Riyadh.
Sources said Saudi Arabia is not happy with the "slow" pace of U.S. efforts to push the Middle East peace process by putting pressure on Israel to reach a peace agreement and end the building of settlements and excavations around Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Abdullah and Cheney also discussed Iran's nuclear program and its growing regional influence. The king confirmed his opposition to any U.S. military strike against Iran, the sources said.
Abdullah also told Cheney that the Middle East should be free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The Saudis say any nuclear non-proliferation efforts should include Israel, which many in the Arab world suspect has a secret nuclear program.
The situation in Iraq was also discussed.
The U.S. wants Saudi Arabia to step up formal ties with the Iraqis by sending an ambassador to Baghdad and encouraging visits by ministers and officials.
Washington wants to see its Arab allies, such as Riyadh and Cairo, upgrade ties with Baghdad as a way of containing Iran's fledgling influence in Iraq, according to U.S. and Arab officials.
Saudi diplomats visited Baghdad at the end of last year to explore the possibility of opening an embassy there.
Washington and Riyadh disagree over the Iraqi government led by Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with Saudis saying al-Maliki is not doing enough to promote reconciliation between the country's Shiite and Sunni Arabs and is giving Iran a chance to deepen its foothold in Iraq.
The political standoff in Lebanon, resulting from the failure of its parliament to elect a president, was also discussed at the talks. The Saudis are key players in Lebanon with financial muscle and political influence on some factions there.
Spiraling oil prices were on the agenda in talks, with both countries agreeing on restoring the balance in oil markets.
The U.S. has called for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to increase the output to curb spiraling prices, but OPEC, of which Saudi Arabia is the biggest producer, has refused to heed the calls.
Cheney has asked the king to press the organization for an output increase to ease pressures on the U.S. economy, according to sources at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh.
In an official ceremony, Abdullah presented Cheney with the country's highest honor.