Biden: Obama will be ‘very engaged’ in Mideast peace process

President Obama will be “very engaged” in seeking a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians during his second term, Vice President Biden vowed on Monday.

Biden made the comments in Rome during a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano ahead of Tuesday's installation mass for Pope Francis. The conversation quickly turned to President Obama's first trip to Israel on Wednesday.

“The President sends his regards and the only reason he's not here is he's going to Israel,” Biden said, according to a White House pool report.

Napolitano said Italians would be watching the president's trip closely and “strongly hope” efforts are made “to open a real, really effective peace process.” He was accompanied by Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant'Agata, military adviser Gen. Rolando Mosca Moschini and several other dignitaries.

“The President is going to deliver that message, that we plan to be very engaged,” Biden answered.

The White House has downplayed hopes for a quick resolution to the decades-old conflict, saying Obama would not be presenting a plan of his own but intended to go on a listening tour in Israel and the West Bank. Iran's nuclear weapons program and the conflict in Syria will also feature prominently during the trip.

Biden and Napolitano shared some jokes about Francis's election last week. Italy held legislative elections last month but has struggled to form a new government coalition after the vote resulted in a three-way split in parliament.

“I didn't realize you'd arrange for a new pope so quickly,” Biden said.

“They are quicker than Italian politics,” Napolitano replied in English.

“They're quicker than American politics,” Biden said with a grin.

“I'm delighted to be here for Pope Francis. He shares a vision that all of us share, to reach out to the poor and the dispossessed,” Biden said. “It's a happy time.”

Biden also thanked Napolitano for Italian troops serving in Afghanistan. Some 4,000 Italian troops are stationed in the country, and at least 49 have been killed in the 12-year war. 

Biden was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador David Thorne, National Security Adviser to the Vice President Jake Sullivan and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Kathleen Doherty. He is also scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Polish President Bronisław Komorowski and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić during his trip to Rome.