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Bush Sending Cheney to Middle East


President Bush is sending Vice President Dick Cheney to the Middle East, following on last week's trip to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House, Cheney will be encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to move forward following an outbreak of violence in Gaza, and new concerns about Israel's settlements policy.

The vice president leaves Sunday on a trip that will take him to Israel, the West Bank, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The White House says the journey was planned some time ago and is not a response to new developments in the region.

But President Bush leaves no doubt Cheney will spend a good bit of his time urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to look past current difficulties and keep focused on the need to move the peace process forward.

"His goal is to reassure people that the United States is committed to a vision of peace in the Middle East, that we expect relevant parties to obligate themselves - uphold their obligations on the road map," said Mr. Bush.

Under the road map, Israel is obligated to curtail settlement activity as the Palestinians work to curb militants from attacking Israelis.

In recent days, Israel has retaliated for rocket attacks from Gaza, and the Israeli government has announced plans to expand a settlement in East Jerusalem.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the prime minister of Poland, President Bush urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to remain determined to make peace a reality.

"I'm optimistic that we'll be able to achieve a vision that shows a way forward, and I'm optimistic leaders will step forward and do the hard things necessary so people don't have to live in deprivation and fear," he added.

The president went on to say there are now three forces affecting the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He said while Israel and the Palestinian Authority seek peace there is another force aiming to destabilize democracy - a reference to the militant group Hamas which now controls Gaza.

In addition to addressing the peace process, Cheney is also expected to discuss the high price of oil when he travels to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah.

The White House says he will reinforce the message delivered by President Bush during his trip to Riyadh in January. Mr. Bush called on OPEC to boost production, a request that was not accepted by the oil cartel.

In Turkey, Cheney is likely to focus on the recent Turkish military offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. And at all his stops, administration officials say the vice president will bring up the need to keep pressure on Iran.