Cheney: The US will never pressure Israel

US vice president lands in Israel for talks with Olmert in J'lem, PA President Abbas in Ramallah.

olmert cheney 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert cheney 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
The US "will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security" and is firmly committed to Israel's right to defend itself at all times, US Vice President Dick Cheney said in Jerusalem Saturday night, prior to a meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "America's commitment to Israel's security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel's right to defend itself always - against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel's destruction," Cheney said. "The US will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security." Cheney arrived after Shabbat for a two-day visit that will include discussions with both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. The US vice president, who was last here five years ago, said history had shown that when faced with Arab partners who accepted Israel's permanence and were "willing and capable of delivering on their commitments," Israel was "prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace." Cheney said he had "no doubt that this is equally the case with the Palestinians." Cheney, accompanied on his trip by his wife, Lynne, said that in his meetings here he would reiterate US President George W. Bush's "vision of two democratic states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security." His trip is part of US efforts to reignite the momentum of the Annapolis process, despite the recent escalation of violence from and in the Gaza Strip. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Israel early next month, and Bush will follow to mark Independence Day on May 14. Cheney is scheduled to travel to Ramallah on Sunday, after attending Easter services in Jerusalem, for meetings with the Palestinian Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Reaching an agreement with the Palestinians "will require tough decisions and painful concessions by both sides, but America is committed to moving the process forward," Cheney said, adding that Abbas and Fayad "can be certain of America's good will in this process." "It is not America's role to dictate the outcome," Cheney said. "But we will help in the negotiations, provide all the support and encouragement we can. We care deeply about these issues. We want 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." Cheney added that as "we continue to work for peace, we must not, and will not, ignore the darkening shadows of the situation in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran, and the forces there that are working to derail the hopes of the world." Olmert, in remarks greeting Cheney, said their talks would focus on Iran, the negotiations with the Palestinians, Syria, Hizbullah and the situation in the South. Cheney had always been "a very good supporter and friend of Israel," the prime minister said. Cheney said he was pleased to be in Israel as it celebrates its 60th anniversary, and that "the State of Israel's rise out of the ashes of World War II is one of history's great miracles. So too is the fact that Israel has survived these six decades despite often violent assaults against its very existence." He said that since the US recognized Israel 11 minutes after it declared independence, the two countries had been more than allies, "special friends" bound together by unique ties of history, culture, religion and memory." Cheney, who leaves on Monday, is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Mossad head Meir Dagan, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu. He is also likely to hold another meeting with Olmert on Monday before he flies to Turkey, the last leg of a regional trip that started last week. He has also visited Oman, Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, where he wrapped up his visit Saturday after private talks with Saudi's King Abdullah on stabilizing the volatile energy market. It was not clear whether Cheney asked the Saudi leader to increase oil production to hold down rising gasoline prices. Cheney spent a little more than an hour in discussions with the king at his horse farm on the outskirts of Riyadh on Friday. The vice president also spent half an hour with the kingdom's petroleum minister before a 3 1/2 hour dinner with the king. They discussed Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process and the energy markets. When Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia in January, he urged the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production. The request was rebuffed. The White House contends that oil producers could suffer because of economic slowdowns in the US, where pump prices are topping $3 a gallon. Cheney and the king discussed some short-term, but mostly medium- to long-term ways, to influence the energy market, a senior Bush administration official said. The official said there were large areas of agreement in the way that Cheney and the king addressed challenges facing the US and Saudi Arabia in the region. He did not disclose details of the discussions. While in Iraq on Monday, Cheney noted there was little spare capacity in the global oil market. He said the declining value of the US dollar was putting pressure on oil prices, as was increasing demand in China, India and in the exporting nations themselves. AP contributed to this report