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Biden pledges full US commitment to Israel security

09 marca, 2010

US Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday pledged Washington\'s full commitment to Israel\'s security while throwing his weight behind a renewal of Middle East peace talks after a 14-month hiatus.

"The cornerstone of the relationship is our absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel\'s security," Biden said after talks with hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

"Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel\'s security."

He also stressed the US determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and demanded that Tehran stop its support of "terrorist organisations," which he said threaten both Israel and the United States.

Biden, the highest-ranking US official to visit Israel and the West Bank since President Barack Obama took office a year ago, also hailed the decision to hold new Middle East talks, despite deep scepticism about the prospects for success.

"I am very pleased that you and the Palestinian leadership have agreed to launch indirect talks. We hope that these talks will lead, and they must lead eventually to negotiations and direct discussions between the parties," he told Netanyahu.

"President Obama and I strongly believe the best long-term guarantee for Israel\'s security is a comprehensive Middle East peace with the Palestinians, with the Syrians, with Lebanon and leading eventually to full and normalised relationships with the entire Arab world," Biden said.

Netanyahu underlined the need "to be persistent and purposeful in making sure we get to those direct negotiations that will enable us to resolve this conflict."

Biden also held talks with President Shimon Peres who cautioned against premature expectations.

"Even in Hollywood, the happy ending is at the end," Peres said at the start of the meeting.

Biden heads on Wednesday to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and prime minister Salam Fayyad, and he also plans to meet former British prime minister Tony Blair, the special envoy for the Quartet of key diplomatic players.

Washington has pushed for months to get both sides to resume talks but direct negotiations have been on hold since Israel launched a devastating 22-day military offensive against the Gaza Strip in December 2008,

US envoy George Mitchell spent the past days in the region to pave the way for the indirect talks, and plans to return next week.

But Biden\'s visit coincided with an Israeli go-ahead for 112 new homes to be built in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, a move that infuriated the Palestinians who demand a complete settlement freeze.

Israel said the project in the Beitar Illit settlement near Bethlehem was an exception to the partial halt of settlement activity that its government announced in November.

Abbas took up the issue with Mitchell on Monday, according to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

"The president said this cannot stand. We cannot tolerate that each time we have discussions on peace-making the Israeli government tenders more settlements, more incursions, more provocations."

Biden, who is accompanied by his wife Jill, will travel on to Jordan on Thursday for talks with King Abdullah II.