Vice President Dick Cheney sought Saudi help on Saturday in dealing with Iraq's spiraling violence and other regional trouble spots where U.S. policy is on the line: Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
Cheney's visit with King Abdullah was brief, lasting only a few hours before he flew back to Washington, but it underlined the two allies' concerns over upheavals across the Middle East, which many Arabs blame on U.S. policies.
In a sign of the urgency of the U.S. concern, President Bush is scheduled to meet with Iraq's prime minister in the Jordanian capital Wednesday and Thursday to discuss security matters.
The unusual succession of visits by the two U.S. leaders was planned before outbursts of violence this week dramatically worsened the situation in two countries of key American interest — Iraq and Lebanon.
On Tuesday, an anti-Syrian Lebanese politician was gunned down in Beirut, highlighting the fragility of the U.S.-backed government and heightening tensions between that country's pro- and anti-Syrian forces.
Two days later in Iraq, suspected Sunni insurgents set off a series of car bombs that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite district of Baghdad, fueling an upsurge in the retaliatory sectarian slayings that threaten to tear the nation apart.
The meeting at Yamama Palace likely focused on both conflicts, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian front, which stands at a key crossroads amid attempts to form a new Palestinian government and get peace negotiations going.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the discussions and Saudi officials were not available.
Help with Sunnis and Shiites
Before the meeting, a Saudi official said Cheney was expected to ask oil-rich Saudi Arabia to use its considerable influence with Iraq's Sunni Arab minority to promote reconciliation with Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. Sunni insurgents have staged some of the bloodiest attacks on U.S. troops and Shiites.
In return, Saudi Arabia wants the U.S. to help rein in Iraq's Shiite militias, which have been blamed for sectarian attacks that have killed thousands, said the official, who agreed to discuss the meeting only if not quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the talks.
On Lebanon, the Saudi official said the kingdom wants to ensure there are no cracks in support for the U.S.-backed government, which is opposed by groups allied with Syria and Iran. Saudi Arabia has strong links to the anti-Syrian bloc dominating Lebanon's Cabinet and parliament.
The official said Saudi Arabia hopes Washington will not snub any Palestinian government that emerges from talks between the militants of Hamas and the more moderate Fatah faction. The U.S. and other nations have shunned the current government led by Hamas, which has refused to recognize Israel and renounce violence against the Jewish state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, is trying to work out a new unity government with Hamas, but Arabs hope the U.S. will be flexible with how much Hamas must moderate to allow a resumption of the peace process with U.S. ally Israel.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries on the Persian Gulf are also deeply concerned over the West's confrontation with Iran over that nation's suspect nuclear program.
Gulf countries worry about the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran and its attempts to expand its influence in the Middle East. But they also fear the West's attempt to force Iran to rein in its program could bring Iranian reprisals.