Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he generally got good responses from Arab allies in his appeal for more help in stabilizing Iraq. He also said he recognizes that advancing the Israel-Palestinian peace process is a related issue that also must be addressed.
“You don’t get to pick and choose,” the vice president told reporters aboard his plane as he returned from a weeklong tour of the Middle East, including an unannounced two-day visit to Iraq and stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan.
Of his meetings with rank-and-file U.S. troops in Iraq, Cheney said, “I thought they were amazingly positive. They believed in what they were doing.”
As evidence of progress, Cheney cited a decrease of violence in volatile Anbar Province. Sunni Arabs and others who live there “got tired of al-Qaida and have been willing to oppose al-Qaida’s activities in that part of Iraq,” he said.
Still, Cheney said, despite President Bush’s military buildup and what he sees as a new seriousness on the part of Iraqi leaders, “I can’t predict precisely what will happen.”
While sectarian violence seem to be decreasing, there is still a high level of truck bombing and suicide bombing, Cheney said.
Defends hard-line stance on Iran
The vice president defended his hard-line rhetoric on Iran during the trip and said he sees no conflict with diplomatic overtures to Iran by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others.
“They’re separate issues,” Cheney said.
He said that Iran’s defiance of the United Nations on curbing its nuclear activities is separate from the issue of whether it can play a useful role in stemming the violence in Iraq.
The administration announced on Sunday that there will be talks in Baghdad within the next few weeks between U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpoint. The talks will focus solely on Iraq.
“I don’t want to predict” the outcome, Cheney said.
The vice president said he did not want to say exactly what leaders in the region told him during their private meetings. “I apologize in advance for the fact that I won’t talk about my conversations with the folks I visited with. That’s why they talk to me,” he said.
He noted that he had known many of them for many years, going back to the first Gulf War when he was defense secretary in the administration of Bush’s father.
But Cheney said that, generally, he felt his trip was a success in getting moderate Arab states to do more to support the fragile government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and to promote reconciliation among rival factions.
Cheney talked with reporters after leaving, Jordan — where he met with King Abdullah — and before a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland.
Hot topic: Israeli-Palestinian peace
On some stops on his tour, Cheney found an eagerness to talk as much about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the situation in Iraq.
In Aqaba, for instance, the king told Cheney of the importance of doing something to reverse the “stagnation” in the peace process. “We know there’s a lot of challenges there,” he told Cheney during a picture-taking session.
Asked later by reporters about whether concerns for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict interfered with his message on Iraq, Cheney said, “I think these are all important issues and we need to work on all of them.”
“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,” he said.
Cheney said he recognizes that the Bush administration’s decision to extend deployments from 12 to 15 months is a burden on military men and women and their families.
Still, he said, “there appeared to be pretty widespread understanding why that was necessary. I didn’t receive a lot of complaints about it.”
He said that there now seems to be a “something of a consensus on the agenda” among Iraqi officials. “There’s not agreement on all of the issues, obviously, but there wasn’t a lot of dispute with respect to the issues that needed to be addressed.”
Cheney said that part of his message to al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders “was that they need to be actively and aggressively getting after solutions to these problems. There’s not a lot of time to be wasted here, and it’s important to move aggressively on the business of the day.”
On his final stop, Cheney met with King Abdullah at the king’s vacation compound overlooking the Gulf of Aqaba, part of the Red Sea. Cheney stayed at a villa on the grounds, and the king, driving his own SUV, picked up the vice president and brought him to a building containing offices and meeting rooms for about two hours of talks and lunch.