JERUSALEM, (AP) – Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that Hamas, with support from Syria and Iran, is trying to “torpedo” peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel.
Meeting reporters after having breakfast with the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Cheney said, “It is clearly a difficult situation, in part, because I think it’s true, there’s evidence, that Hamas is supported by Iran and Syria and that they’re doing everything they can to torpedo the peace process.”
Cheney said in his meeting with Palestinian leaders on Sunday they talked about efforts under way in Yemen to encourage reconciliation between moderate and militant Palestinians.
“My conclusion after talking about this with the Palestinians is that they have established some preconditions before they would ever consider a reconciliation, including a complete reversal of the Hamas takeover of Gaza,” he said.
Asked whether the U.S. supports the Yemeni mediation effort to bridge differences between Hamas and Fatah, a senior administration official traveling with Cheney said the United States has made it clear that it will not support working with Hamas unless there is a fundamental change in the group’s current role, which the U.S. describes as terrorist.
The official commented on condition of anonymity to more freely discuss U.S. policy.
Iran and Syria to some extent are marching in lockstep to foment trouble in the region, the official said, adding that they have resupplied Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon with a significant inventory of weapons since the summer of 2006 and that these weapons have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of range and accuracy. He said the two countries, Syria in particular, are clearly operating to deny the Lebanese the opportunity to govern themselves.
Commenting on the 4,000th American death in Iraq, Cheney said the milestone may have a psychological on the American public.
“You regret every casualty, every loss,” he said. “The president is the one that has to make that decision to send young men and women into harm’s way. It never gets any easier.”
In recalling his talks last week with the king of Saudi Arabia, Cheney would not say whether he had asked the Saudis to increase oil production. President Bush publicly urged the Saudis to produce more to reduce pressure on rising oil prices when he was in the region in January.
Cheney said the Bush administration met with the Saudi king and oil minister about three years ago in Texas and talked about the world oil market. He said at that time the Saudis agreed to increase their capacity to produce oil by 2.5 million barrels a day from what was then 10.5 million barrels. “They kept their word,” he said, adding that the capacity is now about 11.8 million barrels and that at the end of 2009 is expected to be 12.5 million.
The senior official expanded on the internal discussions with the Saudis, saying they are doing a lot to help the world oil market and are doing what they said they would do. The official added that it is hard for the United States to press too hard for the Saudis to increase their production capacity even more when production capacity in the United States has declined in recent years.
Cheney said one of the ongoing concerns of all the parties involved in the peace process is the extent to which arms are being smuggled across the Egyptian border into Gaza. “It’s a continuing problem,” he said. “All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.”
After his breakfast with Olmert — their second meeting in two days — Cheney headed to Turkey to meet with President Abdullah Gul.
In Turkey, a chief NATO ally, Cheney will discuss the Turks’ recent eight-day ground incursion to hit Kurdish rebels who are using bases in northern Iraq as a launch pad for attacks in Turkey. The United States has shared real-time intelligence with the Turks to allow them success in striking back at the rebels, known as the PKK, but the Bush administration has also urged Turkey to keep its forays into Iraq short-lived.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Cheney late Sunday that Iran’s military buildup “is endangering the stability of the region and the entire world” and that no option should be taken off the table concerning Tehran’s nuclear program, according to a statement from Barak’s office.
The vice president said Sunday that neither side in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute should pass up this latest opportunity for an accord despite rancor over Israeli settlements and the retaliatory attacks from each side that have disrupted negotiations intended to lead to Palestinian statehood.
“This can be done, and if all concerned stay at the work, success will be achieved,” Cheney said, striking a hopeful tone on Easter Sunday during his first vice presidential visit to the Palestinian territory.
Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Abbas cited the need for calm in the West Bank and Gaza, and said Israel must halt settlement expansion.
“I can’t say that Mr. Cheney brought anything new in his visit, but he reiterated President Bush’s vision and commitment to having an independent Palestinian state,” Erekat said.
Israel has pursued peace with Abbas, a moderate Palestinian in control of the West Bank. Hamas militants wrested control of the Gaza Strip in June from Abbas-allied forces. Hamas has pounded southern Israel with rockets; Israel has retaliated with attacks in Gaza.