The Daily Star
March 25, 2008 - 5:58pm

US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday hit out at Iran and Syria as he wrapped up a Middle East peace push, saying the two countries were undermining the renewed but faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. Iran and Syria "are doing everything they can to torpedo the peace process," Cheney told reporters in Occupied Jerusalem as he wrapped up a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories before heading to Turkey.

During his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, "I reaffirmed the president's commitment to help the process forward," Cheney said.

US President George W. Bush MBA-Presidents Sep-07 has said he hoped the two sides could strike a deal before he ends his term in January 2009.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met twice with Cheney during his visit, "reaffirmed his commitment to the president's vision and his willigness to do everything he can to achieve a result in 2008 although he is well aware of the difficulties," Cheney said.

In Turkey, Cheney met with President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials on the last leg of a regional tour that had taken him to Iraq, Afghanistan, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey's state-run media said Monday that Cheney held talks with Erdogan on terrorism and Iran's nuclear program.

Cheney also expressed concern about Iran's "nuclear arms program" during his meeting with Erdogan in Ankara, state-run Anatolia news agency said.

Erdogan said Iran should work with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ease the fears of the international community, Anatolia reported.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and its enrichment work is aimed only at producing nuclear-generated electricity, not at making warheads.

Cheney and Erdogan also discussed Washington's cooperation in Turkey's fight against Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq.

The US shares real-time intelligence with Turkey, its NATO ally, in its fight against the Kurdish rebels, who use bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks against Turkey. Turkey and the US label the Kurdish rebel group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organization.

Last month, Turkey launched a major ground operation into northern Iraq to hit PKK camps. The eight-day incursion ended February 29.

Cheney met also with Gul and the country's military chief, General Yasar Buyukanit. The meetings were closed to the media and no announcements were made afterward.

In Ankara, about 50 protesters chanted anti-US slogans near the presidential palace during Cheney's meeting with Gul.

"Down with America," the group shouted. One banner read: "Murderer Cheney."

In his first visit to the Occupied West Bank as vice president on Sunday, Cheney said he told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that "the United States is committed to doing everything we can to facilitate the peace process" but "we cannot dictate the outcome."

On Sunday Cheney warned the Palestinians that continuing attacks on Israel "kill the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people" for their "long overdue" state.

At a joint news conference with Cheney, Abbas once again condemned rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, but said Israel would have to stop military raids and expanding settlements to strike a peace deal.

Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank are one of the main snags that have hampered peace talks since they were relaunched under US stewardship at an international conference in November.

Arriving in the Holy Land during the Easter weekend, Cheney vowed Washington's "unshakeable" defense of Israel's security, assured the Palestinians of US "goodwill," and said both sides would have to make "painful concessions" if they were to strike a deal to end their decades-old conflict.

The vice president also discussed what he called "darkening shadows" in Israel's arch-foe Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

The visit was part of a US diplomatic flurry before Bush returns to Israel in May for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories over the weekend in a bid to push forward the peace talks, her spokesman said Monday.

Rice, who visits the region from Friday to Sunday, will work with "both sides to narrow differences on the political issues that divide them, move the process forward," spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

The secretary will also "work with them on road map-related issues, to urge compliance with both sides - urge compliance by both sides with their 'road map' obligations," McCormack said.

Under the road map - drafted in 2003 by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union - Israel is to freeze settlements and the Palestinians are to stop violence.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017