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Biden: Dismantle West Bank settlements

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday called for dismantling Israeli settlements in the West Bank and repeated guarantees that the United States under President Obama will defend Israel's security.

Seeking to unstick the Middle East peace process, Mr. Biden told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that "now is the time" for all sides to make sacrifices, and said he expects new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show results just as the United States is calling on the Palestinian Authority to do.

"Progress for peace has only been possible when people were willing to think differently, to take risks, to make a principled compromise," Mr. Biden said.

AIPAC is a powerful pro-Israel lobby, and its conference in Washington drew top speakers from both political parties as well as a televised address by Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Biden said the United States will continue to give Israel aid and defend the nation's right to make its own judgments about its defense needs, but said as the Palestinians have obligations to the peace process, so does Israel.

"We are right now seeking funds from Congress to expand this program, but Israel has to work toward a two-state solution," he said. "You're not going to like my saying this, but not building more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement."

Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden will meet later Tuesday with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Mr. Biden also addressed Iran's nuclear program, which the United States says is a precursor to building an atomic weapon. The vice president said former President George W. Bush's approach of isolating Iran failed, and that's why Mr. Obama is proceeding with engagement to see whether Iran is willing to cooperate.

But the vice president said that engagement has a deadline: "Given the situation we inherited, we know we don't have unlimited time to make this assessment."

He said if Iran does not take the path of cooperation, then the world can return to attempting to isolate the nation with the moral authority that comes from having tried engagement. Mr. Biden said that at that point, "nothing is taken off the table" -- a presumably a reference to military action.

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