Cheney: No Current Plan For Iraq

Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean eats the heart of a seal during a community feast in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada on Monday May 25, 2009. (AP Photo/Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick) AP Photo

Vice President Dick Cheney assured Turkish officials that the United States does not plan military action against Iraq in the near future, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said Tuesday.

Cheney met with Ecevit in Ankara, the Turkish capital. It's the final stop on an 11-nation tour of the Middle East and Britain, which many said was aimed at drumming up support for a possible campaign to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Turkish leaders have repeatedly voiced opposition to any action against their southern neighbor.

Cheney "has very clearly stated that there will be no military action against Iraq in the foreseeable future," Ecevit told reporters after his meeting with the vice president.

Almost all the countries Cheney has visited refrained from supporting action against Iraq, insisting that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be resolved instead.

Cheney said in Jerusalem earlier Tuesday that no decision had been made on whether to attack Iraq.

Meanwhile, top Iraqi officials are shuttling between Mideast capitals in a bid to galvanize regional opposition to possible U.S. military action.

Iraq's vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim, arrived in Bahrain on Tuesday and met the Persian Gulf nation's prime minister, Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, as well as senior officials.

Talks covered bilateral relations and the latest regional and international developments, including the March 27-28 Arab Summit in Lebanon, the official Bahrain News Agency said without elaborating.

Ibrahim has visited other Arab nations in the past week, including Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, to gather support for Iraq, which faces the threat of U.S. attack in its ongoing campaign against terrorism.

Saddam Hussein has also dispatched his vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to other Mideast capitals for talks.

Cheney was scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday morning, but U.S. Embassy officials said late Tuesday that it had been canceled due to "scheduling conflicts."

Turkey, which borders Iraq, has urged Iraq to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return to avoid possible U.S. military action. Iraq says it has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction, but has refused to let U.N. inspectors return since their 1998 departure.

"We hope that Iraq abides by U.N. decisions and opens its doors to inspections," Ecevit said. "We hope that Iraq will take decisions that meet the expectations not only of the United States but of the whole world."

Cheney met with Ecevit, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Military Chief of Staff Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu.

Turkey, a close U.S. ally, has strongly supported Washington's anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan. Turkey was also a staging point for U.S. attacks during the Gulf War and U.S. planes are based here in Incirlik air base from which they patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

But Turkey fears that war in Iraq could further destabilize the region, and lead to the creation of a separate Kurdish state in northern Iraq that could in turn encourage similar ambitions among Turkey's 12 million Kurds.

Cheney and Ecevit also discussed the possibility of Turkey taking over command of the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

Turkey, struggling with an economic crisis, is concerned about the cost of maintaining large number of its troops in Afghanistan. Ecevit said Cheney had informed him that the U.S. administration would propose a $228 million aid package to Congress to help Turkey take over the peacekeeping force.

Turkey became the first predominantly Muslim country to join the force, sending 267 troops for security patrols and humanitarian aid distribution. Britain wants to hand over the mission's command by the end of April, before the mission's mandate expires in June.

Earlier, Turkish police tightened security in downtown Ankara and detained 80 people for lack of proper identification, the Anatolia news agency reported. A few hundred people from trade unions and small left-wing parties protested Cheney's visit, shouting anti-U.S. slogans.

Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani also arrived in Ankara for talks Tuesday. Talabani was not expected to meet with Cheney, but in a previous visit the Kurdish leader said he opposed a direct U.S. intervention in Iraq.
  • Pete Brush

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