Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Sunday, 23 March 2008

Cheney backs Israel over security

Shimon Peres and Dick Cheney
Mr Cheney said the US was dedicated to the peace process

US Vice-President Dick Cheney has given strong backing to Israel ahead of talks with Palestinian leaders.

Mr Cheney said the US would never put any pressure on Israel over issues he said would threaten its security.

Speaking in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he described America's commitment to Israel's security as "unshakeable".

Mr Cheney will visit the West Bank town of Ramallah on Sunday for talks with Palestinian leaders.

"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," Mr Cheney said.

"The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps to threaten its security."

Peace efforts

Mr Cheney reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state and said Palestinian leaders could be "certain of America's goodwill".

"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.

We must not, and will not, ignore the darkening shadows of the situations in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran
Dick Cheney

Mr Cheney said history had shown that "Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace" when encountered by Arab partners "who accepted Israel's permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments".

The vice-president attended an Easter Mass in Jerusalem and met more Israeli officials before his visit to Ramallah.

In a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres, he reiterated Washington's commitment to the Middle East peace process.

"We're obviously dedicated to doing all we can as an administration to try to move the peace process forward and also obviously actively involved in dealing with the threats we see emerging in the region," he said.

In Ramallah, Mr Cheney is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

'Darkening shadows'

US President George W Bush has said he hopes for a peace deal before he leaves office in January.

Both Mr Cheney and Mr Olmert referred to regional tensions in the Middle East.

"We must not, and will not, ignore the darkening shadows of the situations in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran and the forces there that are working to derail the hopes of the world," Mr Cheney said shortly after landing in Israel.

Mr Olmert said that there were "many items on the common agenda" of the US and Israel including Iran and carrying on peace negotiations with Palestinians.

"We are watching very carefully the northern front, the behaviour of Syria, and Hezbollah," he added.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called Mr Cheney's comments "completely biased in favour of the Israeli occupation".

He said they confirmed that the US "is a partner to Israel in its war against our people and against the Gaza Strip".

The BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says Israelis and Palestinians are sceptical about the chances for peace.

Opinion polls suggest that most people doubt that the current talks, given an extra push by the Americans at the end of last year, will lead to a deal any time soon, he says.

Mr Cheney will visit Turkey before returning to Washington.

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