- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

ROME — Thanking Italy for its help in Iraq despite widespread public opposition to the war, Vice President Dick Cheney sought to strengthen trans-Atlantic relations yesterday and allay the fears of Europeans who worry about U.S. world dominance.

He urged free nations to fight the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons, but didn’t mention claims by David Kay, the outgoing chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S.-led invasion.

“In all of our actions, the world’s democracies must send an unmistakable message — that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction only invites isolation and carries with it great costs,” Mr. Cheney said in a speech to about 200 government and business leaders and university students.

“Leaders who abandon the pursuit of those weapons will find an open path to far better relations with governments around the world.”

Later, at Nettuno, Mr. Cheney laid a wreath at a World War II cemetery, where 7,860 American soldiers are buried, some in unmarked graves. It was a solemn gesture underscoring an improving U.S.-Italian alliance.

His visit to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial, about 30 miles south of Rome, was a way for him to recognize the 60th anniversary of Allied landings at Nettuno and Anzio on Jan. 22, 1944 — surprise attacks that helped pave the way for the liberation of Rome.

Mr. Cheney’s speech in the Senate Library in the ancient palace of Piazza della Minerva, in the heart of Rome, was aimed at further sealing relations between the United States and Italy, a leading partner in the war on terror.

It also sought to bolster Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s position on the European stage and improve public support in Italy for the war.

Mr. Cheney said President Bush remained committed to a two-state solution of the long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. He said Bush envoy John Wolf would return to the Middle East this week to continue efforts to resolve the conflict.

He also expressed his hope that democracy could be spread throughout the Middle East, and said that was the key to winning the broader war on terrorism. “It is one of the great tasks of our time and will require resolve and resources for a generation or more.”

He thanked Italy for being a “steadfast” partner in the war on terrorism.

“Yours is the third-largest contingent of the coalition in Iraq,” Mr. Cheney said. “And in both Iraq and Afghanistan, your forces have performed difficult duty with skill, and they have faced danger with courage.”

European Affairs Minister Rocco Buttiglione said he was glad to see an affirmation of the friendship between Italy and the United States.

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