AP: Cheney to the Mid East:

Vice President Dick Cheney is reaching out to moderate Arab leaders for help in bringing stability to Iraq, a mission that will include pleas for postwar support for minority party Sunnis.

Cheney departs Tuesday on a weeklong mission to the Middle East, right after a visit to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

While Rice's trip had a wide-ranging agenda that included other tensions in the region, administration officials said Cheney would focus largely on the next steps in Iraq.

Cheney's first stop will be Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Other announced stops include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Cheney also will visit the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf.

What can Cheney bring to the region that Rice couldn't?

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the trip publicly, said President Bush asked Cheney to go because of his close ties with leaders in each of the four countries.

But some Mideast experts outside the administration suggested that Cheney's visit also might be an attempt to try to clear up what might be viewed as mixed messages from Rice by some leaders in the region.

"Some of these people wonder if Condi Rice really speaks for the president when she decides she's going to talk to the Syrians, or when she agrees to go to a conference that includes the Iranians," said David Mack, a retired diplomat who was deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and a consultant to the bipartisan Iraq Study group.

"They wonder if the president is going to pull out the rug from under her. The vice president, who is generally identified as having opposed a lot of the things that we've been increasingly doing, can assure them that she speaks for the president as well," said Mack, now vice president of the Middle East Institute, a group devoted to fostering knowledge of the region. ...

In particular, the senior administration official said, Cheney will appeal to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to use their influence to help rein in Sunni violence against Shiites in Iraq as well as charting ways to better protect Sunnis from violence at the hands of militant Shiites.

In other words, nobody knows what Cheney is telling Sunni leaders. But the US hardly has to apologize to Saudi Arabia for meeting with Syrian or Iranian diplomats, given that the Saudi king recently held a state dinner for Ahmadinejad, etc.

Posted by Laura at 11:53 AM

(The weblog of Laura Rozen – 8 May, 2007)

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