Vice President Dick Cheney leaves for a 10-day trip to the Middle East Sunday. Mr. Cheney will discuss the fight against terrorism and efforts to end Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The vice president is downplaying expectations that his trip will help revive Mideast peace efforts. He said continuing violence would have been part of talks in a dozen countries, even without the recent upsurge in Israeli-Palestinian fighting that led President Bush on Thursday to order his special envoy back to the region.
"I wouldn't overemphasize that aspect of it. It's clearly something that will come up at every stop," the vice president told reporters Friday. "It would have come up at virtually every stop anyway, even if it hadn't been for recent developments between the Israelis and Palestinians."
Mr. Cheney said he will meet with Arab and Israeli leaders to discuss the situation, as well as reaction to a new Saudi peace initiative ahead of an Arab summit in Lebanon later this month.
While trying to solve Israeli-Palestinian violence will be part of his mission, the vice president said Friday he will focus more on the "main reason" for the trip - the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. "Part of the effort here, as well, is to make certain that we don't allow a sanctuary to develop someplace else that could become a refuge, if you will, for the al-Qaida that are currently under enormous pressure in Afghanistan from U.S. forces."
While U.S. forces are making "major progress" against al-Qaida fighters in eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Cheney said there remains a lot of work to be done in the war against terrorism. He said he will discuss how coalition partners can continue to share intelligence, stop terrorist financing and fight domestic terrorist threats with more U.S. military training and equipment.
In preparation for the trip, which includes stops in Britain and Israel, Mr. Cheney met Friday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.