US Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday promised an "unshakeable" defense of Israel's security and assured Palestinians of US "goodwill" as he launched an Easter weekend bid to revive peace efforts.
"We want to see a resolution to the conflict, an end to the terrorism that has caused so much grief to Israelis, and a new beginning for the Palestinian people," he said as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"You were always a very good supporter and friend to the state of Israel," the prime minister said as they began a meeting and working dinner at his residence on what Olmert described as a far-ranging shared agenda.
"We are both very concerned about Iran," Olmert declared, adding that Israel was "watching very carefully" the situation in Lebanon and Syria and was "anxious to carry on" peace talks with the Palestinians.
Cheney was to meet in the West Bank Sunday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad as part of efforts to secure a peace deal before US President George W. Bush's term ends in January 2009.
"Reaching the necessary agreement will require tough decisions and painful concessions by both sides, but America is committed to moving the process forward," said the US vice president.
Cheney arrived here after stops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia on a nine-day diplomatic foray that will also take him to Turkey before he returns to Washington on Tuesday.
His stops in Israel and the West Bank aimed to encourage languishing peace talks, but also take up what he called "darkening shadows" in Iran, Syria, and the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Israel and the Palestinians formally relaunched negotiations under US stewardship at an international conference in November, but have been divided since on the issue of Israeli settlements and violence in and around Gaza.
"It is not America's role to dictate the outcome, but we will help in the negotiations, provide all the support and encouragement we can," as they work on a peace deal aimed at creating a Palestinian state, he said.
Cheney said Israel had proven capable in the past of "wrenching national sacrifices" for peace when it had reliable Arab partners, but vowed "the United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security."
"America's commitment to Israel's security is enduring and unshakeable, 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," he told Olmert at the prime minister's residence.
In Ramallah on Sunday, Cheney was to reaffirm Bush's commitment to fostering the creation of an independent Palestinian state living side by side at peace with Israel and focus especially on bolstering Palestinian institutions, aides said.
Referring to Abbas and Fayyad, Cheney promised that "they, too, can be certain of America's goodwill in this process."
On Sunday, Cheney was to attend a sunrise Easter church service, then have breakfast with Israeli right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Later he is to have separate meetings with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before heading to the West Bank.
After his talks in Ramallah, Cheney will travel to Tel Aviv for a meeting with Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
The vice president's visit was part of a US diplomatic flurry before Bush returns here in May for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel and then leaves office eight months later.
His stop here came as Hamas and Islamic Jihad negotiators met with Egyptian officials, looking to hammer out a truce with Israel and reopening the Rafah border crossing from the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian official said.
In Sanaa, meanwhile, authorities said they were awaiting a response from Hamas on a Yemeni initiative that would bring about a reconciliation between the main Palestinian factions.