Cheney to wrap up Middle East tour in Jordan

Date: 05-13-07

by Olivier Knox

AQABA, Jordan (AFP) - US Vice President Dick Cheney visited Arab allies Egypt and Jordan on Sunday, seeking help in restoring security to Iraq and containing Iran's rising regional influence.

Cheney held talks in Cairo with his 1991 Gulf War ally Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Defence Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, then returned to the Jordanian resort of Aqaba to wrap up a week-long Middle East trip.

The US vice president and his daughter Liz were to have an informal dinner with Jordan's King Abdullah II and other officials, with Cheney due to hold talks with the monarch on Monday before returning to Washington.

Ahead of that meeting, Tehran and Washington said they had agreed to hold talks on Iraq, just a little more than a week after the archfoes failed to have substantive contacts at a conference in Egypt.

US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker may meet with Iranian diplomats in the coming weeks for discussions restricted to Iraqi security, according to White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Such discussions "would be part of this ongoing process to urge Iran to play a helpful role, not train militias and not provide weapons for use in Iraq," Johndroe told AFP from the United States.

"We must take every step possible to stabilize Iraq and reduce the risk to our troops even as our military continue to act against hostile Iranian-backed activity in Iraq," he said.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran had agreed to talks in Iraq "in order to relieve the pain of the Iraqi people, to support the government and to reinforce security in Iraq."

In Cairo, Cheney and Mubarak declined to comment on their talks, but the vice president later told Egypt's defence chief that it had been a "very good meeting."

Tantawi noted that Cheney had previously been US defence secretary, and Cheney said that indeed it was in that capacity that "we first met and did work together, during the Gulf War. We did a lot of business."

"Theres important work to be done, still," said the vice president, whose trip began with a two-day surprise visit to war-torn Iraq, followed by a stop in the United Arab Emirates, and a brief stopover in Saudi Arabia.

In "frank and friendly" talks, Cheney focused on Iraq, Gulf security issues, and Iran's nuclear program, while his host "underlined the need to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," according to a Mubarak spokesman.

"Any efforts aimed at resolving problems in Iraq, or the Iranian nuclear crisis, cannot succeed without reviving the peace process," Suleiman Awad told reporters.

Cheney has been pushing a dual agenda on his trip, trying to get help from key US allies for drawing Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims into the country's fragile political process and away from backing a deadly insurgency.

He has also been trying to get support from predominantly Sunni countries for US-led efforts to contain what he called Shiite Iran's increasing power in the region after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's mostly Sunni government.

In Baghdad, Cheney met with virtually every major Iraqi political leader in an all-out push to warn them that they must step up efforts at national reconciliation amid deep anger at the war among the US public.

Cheney's visit comes as Washington has repeatedly accused Tehran of sending fighters and equipment into Iraq, where they have been targeting US and Iraqi security forces, and stepped up pressure on the Islamic republic over its nuclear programme.

Tehran denies that it arms Iraqi insurgents and says that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.


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