JERUSALEM – Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday began an effort to mend strained ties with Israel, pledging a total U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and declaring that the bonds between the nations were “unbreakable.”

Opening a day of consultations with Israeli leaders, Biden also promoted indirect peace talks, set to begin soon, saying they offered “a moment of real opportunity” in the search for a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Biden, the highest-ranking administration official yet to visit Israel, was dispatched by President Barack Obama to try to restore Israeli confidence in the American government that has deteriorated over the past year. Relations between the governments were strained by the Obama administration’s attempts to halt Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank.

But their disagreements were underscored by Israel’s announcement Tuesday that it would begin construction on 1,600 new housing units in disputed East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians hope to locate the capital of a future state. Senior Israeli officials said the units in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood for ultra-Orthodox Jews, had long been in the works.

The administration also is trying to keep Israeli support for the U.S.-led effort to curtail Iran’s nuclear program through economic and political pressure.