'Don't take any options off the table'

Barak tells Cheney that while Israel supports sanctions against Iran, they may not be enough.

Peres meets Cheney 22488 (photo credit: GPO [file])
Peres meets Cheney 22488
(photo credit: GPO [file])
Late Sunday, US Vice President Dick Cheney met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who told him that while Israel supports sanctions against Iran, "none of the options should be taken off the table," according to a Defense Ministry statement - a reference to possible military action. Before meeting with President Shimon Peres, Cheney said the US was dedicated to doing all it could to advance the peace process. He said the administration also was "actively involved in dealing with the threats that we see emerging in the region - not only threats to Israel, but threats to the United States as well." It was clear that Cheney was referring to Iran. Peres was more specific, saying declarations that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made against Israel cannot be ignored. Peres also told Cheney that the US and Europe were apparently ignoring Iran's ballistic missile development. "Iran's only intentions of developing ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads are to destroy Israel and threaten the entire world," he added. Peres stressed that the anti-Israel declarations that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes against Israel, and Iran's support for Lebanese and Palestinian terror groups, cannot be ignored. "We have this problem of the Iranians who want to build two satellites, the Hizbullah (in Lebanon) and the Hamas in Gaza. ... Nobody can control us and say that declarations by Ahmadinejad are less serious," Peres said. "We have to take it seriously." Peres insisted that until the end of the current US administration's term, several goals could be reached. The president said negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must be focused on with a view to economic development. He said time is of the essence, but that progress was achievable. "The mere fact that in spite of the differences the negotiations go on is a great hope for the future." Regarding a peace deal with Syrai, Peres told Cheney that Israel will not agree to a deal involving the return of the Golan Heights. "If the Golan is given back, it will boost Iran's influence in Lebanon and the territory will effectively be under Iranian-Syrian control," said Peres. Cheney said the US was concerned by developments in Syria, specifically about Damascus supplying weapons to Hizbullah. The US vice president added that he did not get the impression that Syrian President Bashar Assad was interested in dialogue with Israel. "It appears that Bashar is not interested in dialogue, or any kind of talks," a statement from Peres's office quoted Cheney as saying. Palestinian leaders who met with Cheney, asked him to pressure Israel to halt West Bank settlement construction and voiced other complaints that deflated Cheney's hopeful words about Mideast peace. Palestinians had little expectation their meetings with Cheney, a strong defender of the Jewish state, would produce anything concrete. While that was the case, the Bush administration did get another chance to nudge the two sides toward an agreement before President George W. Bush leaves office in January. The Palestinians, too, had another shot at expressing their frustrations. The vice president said neither side should pass up this latest opportunity for an accord despite rancor over Israeli settlements and the attacks from each that have disrupted negotiations intended to lead to Palestinian statehood. "This can be done, and if all concerned stay at the work, success will be achieved," Cheney said, striking a hopeful tone on Easter Sunday during his first vice presidential visit to the Palestinian territory. After talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, Cheney flew to the West Bank by helicopter, touching down at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's presidential compound near the grave of longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004. Abbas met Cheney at the end of a long red carpet and they walked between two rows of presidential guards. Palestinian officials said there were no breakthroughs in Cheney's talks with Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, and that Cheney essentially paid a courtesy call, repeating US positions. Saeb Erekat, an Abbas aide, said Abbas cited the need for calm in the West Bank and Gaza, and said Israel must halt settlement expansion. "I can't say that Mr. Cheney brought anything new in his visit, but he reiterated President Bush's vision and commitment to having an independent Palestinian state," Erekat said. Cheney's visit was part of the administration's strategy to keep the pressure on negotiators. Bush visited the region in January and returns in May, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came this month and is due back in April. "Peace and stability will not be achieved through a settlement expansion or the setting up of checkpoints around towns and villages, and the military escalation against Gaza, nor the incursions, continuous incursions into West Bank villages and towns, as well as the arrest which led to more than 11,000 prisoners in the Israeli jails," Abbas said, detailing Palestinian complaints. "We also reiterate our condemnation and rejection for the firing of missiles being launched from Gaza against Israel," he said after meeting Cheney. Cheney said a peace deal will mean "painful concessions" by both sides, and require the will to defeat those who are committed to violence and refuse to accept the other side's right to exist. "Terror and rockets do not merely kill innocent civilians," Cheney said. "They also kill legitimate hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people." In an apparent response to Cheney, a Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said: "This is part of the American policy and this is part of the war crimes committed by this administration. ... Sooner or later the criminals will be punished." Before his diplomatic mission, Cheney began Easter Sunday with a peaceful prayer and the singing of "Amazing Grace" at a tiny chapel in Jerusalem with an arched ceiling of stones. On Cheney's 10-day trip to the Mideast, talks with leaders have focused on oil, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.