ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Vice President Dick Cheney, concluding two days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, said Monday that Hamas militants and their backers in Iran and Syria are playing the role of spoiler in Mideast peace talks.
"It is clearly a difficult situation, in part, because I think it's true, there's evidence, that Hamas is supported by Iran and Syria and that they're doing everything they can to torpedo the peace process," Cheney told reporters before heading to Turkey, the final stop on his 10-day trip to the Mideast.
Cheney said there's ongoing concern about the extent to which arms are being smuggled across the Egyptian border into Gaza where they're being used by Hamas to attack Israel.
"It's a continuing problem," he said. "All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see," Cheney said.
Cheney, a strong supporter of Israel, talked with reporters in Jerusalem after having breakfast with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the last in a series of meetings to talk about regional issues and nudge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach a peace agreement before President Bush leaves office in January 2009. He said Olmert told him that despite the difficulties, he would do everything he can to try to achieve an agreement this year.
Cheney on Sunday traveled to Ramallah to talk with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose moderate party controls the West Bank. He said they talked about efforts in Yemen to encourage reconciliation between Abbas' moderate Fatah Party and Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
"My conclusion from talking with the Palestinian leadership is that they have established preconditions which would have to be filled before they would ever agree to reconciliation, including a complete reversal of the Hamas takeover of Gaza," the vice president said.
The U.S. has made it clear that it will not support working with Hamas unless there is a fundamental change in the group's stance toward Israel. Meanwhile, an Israeli official said Israel would halt peace talks with Abbas if he reconciles with Hamas.
Iran figured prominently in all of Cheney's discussions with foreign leaders in Iraq, Oman, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey.
The United States says Iran and Syria are working to foment trouble in the region, resupplying Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon with a significant inventory of weapons since the summer of 2006 and that these weapons have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of range and accuracy. In the U.S. view, Iran and Syria in particular are operating to deny the Lebanese the opportunity to govern themselves.
Cheney did not make public new evidence to document the U.S. claims.
On an issue closer to home, Cheney said he talked last week with Saudi King Abdullah about rising oil prices. The vice president would not say whether he had asked the Saudis to increase oil production as Bush did when he was in Saudi Arabia in January. He said the Saudis vowed about three years ago to expand their production capacity and that "they've kept their word."
In Ankara, Cheney talked with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, about Afghanistan, energy security and Turkey's recent eight-day ground incursion into northern Iraq.
The Turkish soldiers, which are receiving real-time U.S. intelligence, are fighting against rebels in the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party, also known as PKK. The PKK rebels want autonomy in the predominantly Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey, and have carried out attacks on Turkish targets from bases in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
The U.S. supports Turkey's action against the PKK. But it must balance its allegiance to Iraq with the support it gives Turkey, an ally and member of NATO. During the incursion, which ended on Feb. 29, Bush asked the Turks to "move quickly, achieve their objective and get out" of Iraq.
Dozens of protesters from Turkey's Communist Party held a demonstration against Cheney in Istanbul, holding banners that read "Cheney leave our country," and "Yankee Go Home!" Similar protests were also held in the Turkish capital. "Down with America," the protesters shouted outside the presidential palace where Cheney met the Turkish president. The demonstrators, who burned Cheney in effigy, carried banners that read "We don't want to send our soldiers to Afghanistan," and "Murderer Cheney."
Turkey reaffirmed its commitment to Afghanistan but has refused to send significant numbers of combat troops to the violent southern part of the country. The Turkish leaders agreed to see if there was more they could do but offered no new commitments, a U.S. official said.
Associated Press writer Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara contributed to this report.