Jerusalem Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday the U.S. has an "enduring and unshakable" commitment to Israel's security and its right to defend itself against those bent on destroying the Jewish state.
At the start of a weekend of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Cheney also said the Bush administration wants to see a "new beginning" for the Palestinian people and is committed to pursuing a Mideast peace deal.
Cheney's visit is part of the U.S. strategy to keep the pressure on the two sides, despite recent bloodshed, to agree on a framework for peace before President Bush leaves office in January.
"America's commitment to Israel's security is enduring and unshakable, 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 told reporters before an evening meeting with Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
"America's committed to moving the process forward," Cheney said. But, he said, "it is not America's role to dictate the outcome." The U.S. wants to see a resolution to the conflict and will provide support and encouragement to help make that happen.
Cheney reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state and assured Palestinian leaders that "they, too, can be certain of America's good will" as the U.S. tries to help Israel and the Palestinians reach an accord.
"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.
He made direct mention of parts of the Middle East where the U.S. says efforts are under way to foment violence and undermine stability in the region.
"As we continue to work to peace, 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," Cheney said.
Speaking of the U.S. as a strong ally, Cheney said America "will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security."
Olmert said Israel, too, is worried about Iran and is "anxious to carry on" negotiations with the Palestinians. His government is watching "the behavior of Syria and the Hezbollah" and shares concerns with the U.S. about attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians.
Cheney, who just wrapped up two days of meetings in Saudi Arabia, planned to attend an Easter service Sunday in Jerusalem, then go to Ramallah in the West Bank for talks with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Bush asked Cheney to visit Israel to discuss the peace process and other regional issues in advance of Bush's trip in May to mark the 60th anniversary of the modern state of Israel, according to Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride.