Bush sends Cheney to meet PM, Abbas

US vice president expected to take J'lem to task for settlement construction during his visit next week.

cheney 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
cheney 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
US Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to take Jerusalem to task for settlement construction during his visit to Israel and other regional countries next week. "Settlement issues and violence issues are part of the road map obligations that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are moving fast enough on," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said when asked about Cheney's upcoming trip. "The vice president will continue to push them and to work with them, as they work through all of these issues, despite all the violence that is happening around them." Later in the day, US President George W. Bush described the goals of the visit as including "to reassure people that the United States is committed to a vision of peace in the Middle East, that we expect relevant parties to obligate themselves - [to] uphold their obligations on the road map." He also touched on the primacy of the Iranian issues, saying that Cheney would convey that "we fully see the threats facing the Middle East - one such threat is Iran - and that we will continue to bolster our security agreements and relationships with our friends and allies." Perino said the flare-up in recent days between Israel and the Palestinians, which included Hamas rocket barrages from Gaza, the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians there in counterraids and the shooting of eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem by a Palestinian terrorist Thursday, had not been the impetus for the "long-planned" trip. Perino said Bush had asked Cheney to travel to the region on the heels of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's own visit there last week in order to "follow up and continue to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on their road map commitments, the need to stop the violence and the need to have negotiations." Rice tried to bring both sides back to the negotiating table after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended the talks due to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said the talks will continue. Further complicating the picture was the announcement Sunday that Israel had approved the construction of a new neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev, an ultra-Orthodox enclave to be called Agan Ha'ayalot. In addition, another 400-unit project in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya'akov, which is over the Green Line, is likely to go through. The projects were expected to come up in talks between Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in Washington Monday and Tuesday. After a meeting with Rice Monday afternoon, Livni was due to dine with Rice at a local restaurant in the evening. A State Department official said Monday that the State Department hadn't been informed of these construction projects in advance but was aware of the media reports on the subject and was consulting with the Israeli government. "We continue to urge both parties to refrain from steps that could prejudice the outcome of negotiations, and we are committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians to support progress towards addressing their commitments under the road map and advancing the shared goal of a negotiated two-state solution," he said. Livni will also be meeting with US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Cheney during her visit. On his trip, Cheney will meet with Olmert and both Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, as well as Sultan Qaboos of Oman, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. A senior government official on Monday welcomed the Cheney visit, saying he has always been perceived as a friend of Israel The official added that it was "good to have a dialogue with him," and it was important to have smooth coordination with the Bush administration during the final months of its term. Cheney is considered a key player in developing the Bush administration's policy toward Iran, a key issue in his talks with Olmert. He is expected in Israel next weekend. In addition to Cheney, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain is also scheduled to arrive in Israel next week, and will be part of a Senate delegation that is also expected to include Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman, who endorsed McCain, is considered an important asset in McCain's campaign for Jewish voters. Another visitor next week will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is bringing a delegation of nine ministers in what has been described by both Israeli and German diplomatic officials as a gesture for Israel's 60th anniversary aimed at substantially upgrading the relations between the two countries.