ROME – US Vice President Dick Cheney rarely visits Europe and even more rarely does he meet the press, even the American press. His recent emergence into the limelight is clearly linked with the beginning of the US presidential election campaign. On the last day of his recent visit to Rome this week, in an interview with several European newspapers, including Kathimerini, Cheney attributed his absence from the forefront in recent years to the fact that he had to manage Senate affairs on issues of major importance. Cheney discussed US positions at last weekend’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where he did not meet with any European leaders apart from Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, though he did with King Abdullah of Jordan and Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf. Cheney, accompanied by his wife and daughter, came to Rome because, as he said, «Italy, which has the third largest military force in Iraq, suffered 19 casualties in November, and because of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s friendship with US President George Bush.» Cheney, who along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is one of the staunchest supporters of the war in Iraq, defended the Bush administration’s decisions and questioned Senator John Kerry’s reservations about the way Bush had obtained Congress’s approval. The Bush administration is being attacked by the Democrats over Washington’s deteriorating relations with some of the US’s powerful allies. Cheney tried to emphasize that this had happened between countries that had been long-term allies and that the crisis should not undermine the firm foundations on which common goals were based, nor the cultural and historical bonds between the US and Europe. «The important thing is to not allow the differences over any one issue, or even set of issues, to shake the basic foundations of the alliance. There are good and sufficient reasons why the United States looks to Europe and the nations of Europe as our closest friends and allies.» Cheney expressed the certainty that cooperation with Greece would continue – irrespective of the government to emerge from the coming elections in Greece. Mideast democracy Cheney also defended Bush’s policies regarding the «democratization» of the Middle East. «We don’t accept the proposition that somehow the Arab world or the Muslim world isn’t capable of self-government or of building free societies and democratic institutions. There have been times in the past when that could have been said perhaps about parts of Europe.» «You also have to take into account the special unique circumstances from the historical and cultural standpoint of all those countries. There’s not sort of a US model that you can take and plunk down in any one of these countries. It’s going to look different when it develops in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other part of the world. And that’s how it should be.» He said the US believed that about 20,000 terrorists had been trained in Afghanistan during the late 1990s, and that one of the ways to resolve what was a global problem was not to allow developments of this kind in the broader Middle East and to create societies that do not breed terrorism. Iraq’s weapons program Questioned on the fact that European governments’ confidence in the US had been tested by the fact that no weapons of mass destruction had been found after the Iraq campaign, Cheney said: «There’s still work to be done to ascertain exactly what’s there, and I am not prepared to make a final judgment until they have completed their work.» «Given the circumstances that we faced, given the history that Saddam Hussein represented, given the information and the intelligence that was available to the president, I believe it was a sound decision. I believe it was a sound decision today.» Referring to comments by David Kay, who resigned last Friday as the chief US arms inspector questioning prewar intelligence, Cheney said that, in his view, much of what Mr Kay had said supported the view that Saddam Hussein represented a serious threat. «My conclusion is that we were in fact justified, doing exactly what we did,» he said. He referred to Kay’s statement that Iraq had continued «until the end» to develop biological weapons, such as ricin, and had restarted its nuclear program in 2000-1, although it was not as advanced as that in Libya. As for criticism from Senator John Kerry that the Bush administration had not told Congress the whole truth when asking for its approval of the war against Iraq, Cheney attributed Kerry’s statements to the election battle for the New Hampshire primary. «We used force (in Iraq) only because all other options had failed,» he said. Turkey Cheney also referred to Turkey as an «important ally,» with which the US had done very good work over the years. He said the US appreciated the fact that Turkey was a key factor, as it bordered not only the Middle East but Europe, and said his country supported Turkey’s ambitions to become a member of the European Union. However, he emphasized that the US was not involved in the specific details of this process, including the time frame, which was something that had to be worked out between Turkey and the EU. However, he said he believed that it was in everyone’s interest to include Turkey in Europe, and for it to continue to be a strong member of NATO. Cooperation on Olympics Cheney said the US’s close cooperation with Greece on Olympic Games security would continue even if there was a change of government in Greece after the March elections. He said his own government was working closely with the Greek government, the International Olympic Committee and many other states to ensure that the Games went ahead without exposing anyone to the risk of terrorism. «I see no reason why that cooperation should not continue. I believe that it will,» he said.