JERUSALEM – Vice President Dick Cheney began Easter Sunday with a prayer and the singing of "Amazing Grace" Sunday at a tiny chapel in Jerusalem, then launched into a day of talks about conflict: the Mideast peace process and the rising influence of Iran in the region.
"We are obviously dedicated to doing all we can as an administration to try to move the peace process forward, and obviously actively involved in dealing with the threats that we see emerging in the region -- not only threats to Israel, but threats to the United States as well," Cheney, a strong supporter of Israel, said in a meeting with President Shimon Peres.
It was clear that Cheney was referring to Iran, but Peres was more specific, saying the declarations that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes against Israel cannot be ignored.
"We have this problem of the Iranians who want to build two satellites, the Hezbollah and the Hamas in Gaza. ... Nobody can control us and say that declarations by Ahmadinejad are less serious," Peres said. "We have to take it seriously."
He said time is of the essence in the peace process, but that he believes progress is achievable. "The mere fact that in spite of the differences the negotiations go on is a great hope for the future," Peres said.
Cheney began the day with his wife, Lynne, and daughter, Liz, attending a nondenominational service at Lazarist Monastery, which rents out space to the U.S consulate do diplomatic work with the Palestinian Authority.
Afterward, he had breakfast with Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and went to meetings with Peres and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni. Later in the day, Cheney was going to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Cheney is on a 10-day trip to the Mideast, where oil, the future of Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran's rising influence in the region have highlighted his talks with foreign leaders. His visit here is part of the Bush administration's strategy to keep the pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to reach a framework agreement for peace before Bush leaves office in January 2009.
On Saturday night, Cheney offered a bold defense of Israel. Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Cheney said that the United States wants a new beginning for the Palestinian people but will never pressure Israel to take steps that would jeopardize its security.
"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 threats from forces dedicated to Israel's destruction," Cheney said. "The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security."