SLUG: 2-312299 Cheney / Italy (L)
TITLE= CHENEY / ITALY
BYLINE= SABINA CASTELFRANCO
INTRO: Vice-President Dick Cheney gave a clear signal the United States wants to strengthen ties with Europe, and defended the U-S led war in Iraq. Speaking in Rome, Mr. Cheney also thanked Italy for its strong support in Iraq. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome
TEXT: Vice-President Cheney urged free nations to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction and defended the U-S led invasion in Iraq.
Referring to Saddam Hussein, Mr. Cheney said, "Today the former dictator sits in captivity: he can no longer harbor and support terrorists, and his long efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction are at an end."
In his speech to an audience of college students and political and business leaders in the library of the Italian senate, Mr. Cheney said civilized people must do everything in their power to defeat terrorism.
In his words, "The world's democracies must send an unmistakable message: that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction only invites isolation and carries with it great costs." He added that leaders who abandon the pursuit of those weapons will find an open path to far better relations with governments around the world.
But Cheney made no reference to comments by the outgoing head of the U-S search for weapons of mass destruction, David Kay, who said he now does not believe Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of banned weapons before the war.
Turning to the Middle East, Mr. Cheney said U-S envoy John Wolf would return to the region this week to continue efforts to get the Roadmap for Peace plan back on track. He said the United States remains committed to a two-state solution in the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.
The vice president also said that helping the people of the Middle East obtain democracy is ultimately the key to winning the broader war on terror.
In his speech, the vice-president praised Italy as a steadfast partner in the war against terrorism, paid tribute to those who, as he put it, "have sacrificed for our common security."
Nineteen Italians were killed last November when a suicide truck bomber attacked the headquarters of Italy's paramilitary police in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriyah.
On Tuesday, the vice president is scheduled to have an audience with Pope John Paul at the Vatican, before going to the Aviano and Vicenza U-S military bases in northern Italy to address troops. (SIGNED)
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