First Published: 2007-05-08

 
Cheney to seek help on Iraq, Iran
 

US Vice President aims to convince Iraq's neighbors to back four-month US-led crackdown.

 

Middle East Online

By Olivier Knox – WASHINGTON

Iraq in mind

US Vice President Dick Cheney heads Tuesday to the Middle East, seeking help from sometimes wary US allies for stabilizing Iraq and hoping to enlist them to counter Iran's growing regional influence.

But Cheney -- who will visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan -- will leave the diplomatic heavy lifting on the Arab-Israeli peace process to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a top aide said Monday.

"I'm not sure that getting another cook in that kitchen makes much sense," a senior Cheney aide told reporters in a pre-trip briefing held on condition that he not be named.

"So my sense is that the division of labor on this was really the vice president would be focused on Iraq and some of the other security challenges that we have in the region," the aide said.

Instead, Cheney will aim to convince Iraq's mostly Sunni neighbors to back the four-month US-led crackdown and convince their fellows in Iraq to end support for the insurgency and embrace the country's shaky political process.

"These are some of the, I think, the most respected and most influential leaders in that part of the world," the aide said. "You're in a situation where you want to be firing on all pistons and using every tool we have."

The US vice president, a potent force in an increasingly weak White House, will be the senior-most official from Washington to visit Riyadh since King Abdullah railed against the "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq.

Asked about such tensions -- King Abdullah recently refused to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki -- the Cheney aide said Riyadh's other actions, including significant Iraqi debt forgiveness, spoke louder than words.

"I think on the whole, Saudi leadership is a very good thing given the strength and enduring nature of our relationship with the Saudis and the amount of work and cooperation we've done over the years," the aide said.

The US-Saudi alliance may also prove critical amid mounting tensions between rising powers Saudi Arabia and Iran on Iraq and Lebanon though the aide declined to characterize the struggle for influence as a "proxy war."

"On the sort of notion of a proxy war, I mean, it's clearly important to avoid any kind of inflammation of those tensions to that extent," the Cheney aide said.

"I don't think I wouldn't buy that premise yet, but there's no doubting that those kinds of tensions exist and may be becoming more acute," the aide said.

Cheney's visit will seek to rally support in the region for confronting Iraq diplomatically over its nuclear program, which Washington charges is cover for an atomic weapons quest, an accusation Tehran denies.

The aide said the United States and its allies were considering a third UN Security Council resolution to punish Iran for refusing to halt sensitive nuclear activities and that support in the region would be "very helpful."

The vice president was to leave Washington on Tuesday, and kick off his visit in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.

Cheney will meet with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, according to a statement released last week by his office.

"The vice president also will meet with US military commanders and speak with US troops stationed in the Persian Gulf region," it said.

The trip will be Cheney's second major foray overseas this year. He traveled to Japan, Guam, Australia, Oman, Pakistan and Afghanistan in late February.

 

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