Cheney sees Arab support on Iraq-2

Date: 05-14-07

by Olivier Knox

SHANNON, Ireland (AFP) - US Vice President Dick Cheney, wrapping up a week-long visit to the Middle East, said Monday that he had won support from his Arab hosts for US efforts to stabilize war-torn Iraq.

Cheney, speaking aboard his Air Force Two airplane after leaving Jordan, also said that their backing was not contingent on making progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- though doing so is a key US goal.

"I do not think it's everything or nothing. I do believe there are a number of issues that need to be worked on simultaneously. You don't get to pick and choose," the vice president told reporters.

"I think these are all important issues, and we need to work on all of them," said Cheney, whose trip began with a two-day surprise trip to Iraq, then stops in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

Cheney said he found "a greater sense of urgency" among Iraqi leaders than he had seen before but warned the Baghdad government that time was running out to make progress on key issues tied to national reconciliation.

"There's not a lot of time to be wasted here, and it's important to move aggressively on the business of the day," he said he told them in meetings in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday.

"Part of the message obviously was that they need to be actively and aggressively getting after solutions to these problems," including passing an oil-revenue sharing law and getting jobs for minor players in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, he said.

Asked whether he had won his Arab hosts' support for US efforts to stabilize Iraq, Cheney replied: "I did." He declined to offer further details.

At his final stop, the Jordanian resort city of Aqaba, King Abdullah II pressed him during a brief joint public appearance to help move the Arab-Israeli peace process out of its current "stagnation."

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak told Cheney that US efforts to curb Iran's growing regional influence and stabilize Iraq "cannot succeed" unless progress is made on the peace process, a Mubarak spokesman said.

Asked about impressions that his hosts had a different agenda than he did, Cheney replied: "I don't know why it's come across that way. If anybody's talking to you about it, they weren't in the meetings."

Cheney also said that there was no contradiction between his tough talk on Tehran's nuclear program and plans for US- Iran talks in Baghdad about efforts to bolster Iraqi security.

"They're separate issues," said Cheney, who sternly warned Iran Friday from a US aircraft carrier roughly 150 miles (240 kilometres) from its shores that the United States would not let the Islamic republic acquire nuclear weapons.

"We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region," he told thousands of sailors on the nuclear-powered USS John C. Stennis, five warplanes parked behind him.

But with Cheney in the Middle East to seek Arab support for containing Iran, Tehran announced later that it had accepted a US invitation for ambassador-level talks in Baghdad on efforts to stabilize and rebuild Iraq.

US President George W. Bush "made clear that the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors to focus on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran's interference in the internal affairs of Iraq," said Cheney.

"A separate proposition is the fact the international community, including the United States, is deeply concerned about Iran's pursuit of enrichment technology for building nuclear weapons," the vice president said.

"The Iranians are, in fact, in violation now of two unanimously approved United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for them to stop what they're doing," he said.


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