- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

JERUSALEM (AP) — Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday 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, Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction,” Mr. Cheney told reporters before an evening meeting with Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

Mr. 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 goodwill” as the U.S. tries to help Israel and the Palestinians reach an accord.

Mr. Cheney, who just wrapped up two days of meetings in Saudi Arabia, planned to attend an Easter service today in Jerusalem, then go to Ramallah in the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Bush asked Mr. Cheney to visit Israel to discuss the peace process and other regional issues in advance of Mr. Bush’s trip in May to mark the 60th anniversary of the modern state of Israel, according to Cheney spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride.

Mr. Bush hosted a Mideast peace conference in November in Annapolis to kick off the latest effort to resolve the decades-old conflict, and visited the region in January, followed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March. She plans to return in April.

In Saudi Arabia, Mr. Cheney held private talks with King Abdullah on stabilizing the volatile energy market. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Cheney asked the Saudi leader to increase oil production to hold down rising gasoline prices.

The White House contends that oil producers could suffer because of economic slowdowns in the U.S., where pump prices are topping $3 per gallon, and other major oil customers as a result of high energy prices.

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