AFP: US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday hit out at Iran and Syria as he wrapped up a Middle East peace push, saying they were undermining the renewed but faltering Israeli-Palestinian talks. JERUSALEM (AFP) US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday hit out at Iran and Syria as he wrapped up a Middle East peace push, saying they 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 Jerusalem as he wrapped up a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories before heading to Turkey.
During his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leadership, “I reaffirmed the president’s commitment to help the process forward,” Cheney said.
US President George W. Bush 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 was to meet with President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials on the last leg of a regional tour that has also taken him to Iraq, Afghanistan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.
In his first visit to the occupied West Bank as vice president on Sunday, Cheney said he told moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas that “the United States is committed to doing everything we can to facilitate the peace process” but “we cannot dictate the outcome.”
The talks with the Palestinian leadership came as Abbas’s secular Fatah party and the Hamas movement penned a deal in Yemen to hold their first direct talks since the Islamists’ bloody seizure of Gaza nine months ago.
“My conclusion in talking with the Palestinian leadership is that they have established preconditions which would have to be filled before they would ever agree to a reconciliation including a complete reversal of the Hamas takeover of Gaza,” Cheney said.
A senior US administration official told reporters that Cheney told Abbas that Washington will not “support working with Hamas unless they were to fundamentally change their stripes.”
He was referring to Western demands that Hamas renounce violence, recognise Israel and past peace deals.
Hamas, a group pledged to Israel’s destruction and considered a terror outfit by the US and the Jewish state, routed pro-Abbas forces in June in Gaza, splitting the Palestinians into two separate entities.
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 press conference with Cheney, Abbas once again condemned the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, but said Israel would have to halt 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” defence 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.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Cheney late Monday that while economic sanctions were for the moment the best way to deal with Tehran, “no option should be ruled out.”
“Iran’s weapons programme threatens not only the stability of the region, but of the whole world,” Barak said.
Washington and Israel, widely considered the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, accuse Iran of pursuing the development of a nuclear bomb under the guise of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Tehran denies.
The vice president’s 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.