Cheney Pledges to Work for Mideast Peace

Acknowledging Arab suspicion towards U.S. Mideast policy, Vice President Dick Cheney fielded pointed questions from Egyptian journalists about whether the United States was doing enough to stop "an outrageous all out-war against Palestinians" by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We plan to do everything we can to persuade both parties that it is time for that violence to end," Cheney said during a news conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the seaside town of Sharm El Sheik, Egypt.

Mubarak was more specific in his response.

"As Palestinians are expected to exert the maximum restraint possible, Israel should clearly understand that the policy of collective punishment, demolition of homes, humiliation of Palestinian civil population and its current military offensive in civilian towns and villages cannot be tolerated and must be immediately stopped."

Cheney said that during the course of his travels, he is reiterating a U.S. commitment to try to end the violence and bring about resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, but the burden lies equally on both of them to stop the cycle of Palestinian suicide attacks and Israeli military retaliation.

President Bush's special envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni is headed to the region this weekend to begin a plan to end the violence and begin peace negotiations. Cheney will meet up with him there at the tail end of his 11-nation tour of Arab nations, Turkey and Israel.

The U.N. Security Council passed a near-unanimous resolution Tuesday night calling for a Palestinian state, something that Cheney said he was happy had such overwhelming support, but which Mubarak took with a grain of salt.

"We have so many resolutions in that direction. The president of the United States has already mentioned even before this resolution that there should be a Palestinian state vis a vis the Israeli state and they should live in security with each other and work as neighbors. The Security Council resolution didn't differ with what the president of the United States had already mentioned before," he said.

In fact, just as Cheney was arriving in the region, Israel launched the biggest offensive in the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 Middle East war. The timing by Sharon didn't go unnoticed by officials traveling with Cheney who said Sharon acted without consulting the United States.

Cheney's first stop in Sharm el-Sheikh was at a multinational peacekeeping outpost set up to help monitor enforcement of the 1979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

"This region is both the site of many conflicts and one of the critical centers of American interest — economic, military and political," Cheney said. "Our country is engaged in the Middle East as a force for stability and long-term peace."

Cheney got about the most he could hope for from his meeting with Mubarak, who said Wednesday that Iraq's people should not be exposed to more harm from U.N. sanctions, though Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein should allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country.

"We try hard with Saddam Hussein to accept the U.N. weapons inspectors and we are going to meet some of his special envoys and tell them that this is a must from him," Mubarak said. "As far as I know, he is going to accept the weapons inspectors. We will try this direction as far as we come and if after that if nothing happens, we'd find out what would be done in that direction."

The Bush administration seems beyond the point of accepting compliance from Hussein to long-disregarded U.N. resolutions as it tries to drum up support for a mission to get rid of the dictator.

So far, success has been limited. At the outset of his tour, Cheney stopped in London and received support from British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He did not receive as warm a reception from Jordan's King Abdullah II or from Mubarak, who both oppose any U.S. plans to move against Hussein with military force.

Administration officials suggest privately that opposition to any mission in Iraq is meant for public consumption, while in reality they will quietly acquiesce to any military action a U.S.-led force may undertake.

Early in the day, Cheney told American National Guard troops stationed near the Red Sea port that the war on terrorism will continue even as the United States looks for peace in the Mideast.

"The success of liberty and the future of the civilized world now depend on us," Cheney said.

Some 865 Americans are part of the 1,800-member, 11-nation force, part of which serve here and the rest near the border with Israel. Most of the U.S. troops here are members of the Arkansas National Guard, sent to relieve regular Army members after the September attacks in the United States.

"This war will end when we and our allies have delivered justice — in full measure — and no terrorist group or government can threaten the peace of the world," Cheney said.

The vice president and his wife, Lynne, later ate lunch in a camp mess hall with the troops.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.