Cheney Trip Off To Bumpy Start

Cheney Face The Nation AP

Vice President Dick Cheney received a public warning Tuesday from Jordanian King Abdullah II that expanding the terrorism war to Iraq could destabilize the region and undermine gains in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials had hoped for a more muted message from the king, whose comments came as Cheney began a whirlwind tour of the Middle East.

Abdullah has been a top ally in the terror war, but like many Arab leaders he has been openly skeptical of U.S. hints of hostile action against Iraq.

During a private meeting with Cheney, Abdullah "expressed hope for a solution to all outstanding problems with Iraq through dialogue and peaceful means," said a palace statement.

It also said Abdullah voiced Jordan's concern about "the repercussions of any possible strike on Iraq and the dangers of that on the stability and security of the region."

The meeting with the king was the vice president's first stop on a tour of nine Arab nations, Israel and Turkey.

"Here and throughout this journey, I expect frank discussions on the urgent matters facing this region and all of the civilized world," Cheney said at an airport welcoming ceremony.

He was then whisked away to the private meeting and working dinner at Beit al-Barakeh palace with the king.

Cheney said he was in the region to discuss the war in Afghanistan and new efforts to quell Palestinian-Israeli violence.

"As President Bush made clear last week, the United States will do all it can to help end the tragic violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and return the parties to a productive negotiating process," Cheney said.

He will meet later in the week, in Israel, with State Department envoy Anthony Zinni, whom Bush has sent to the region to try to get the peace process moving again.

Abdullah set an opening-day tone for Cheney's trip with a pre-emptive warning about U.S. military action against Iraq.

The United Nations "is the only way to resolve all outstanding issues," Abdullah said in an interview with the Saudi Al-Watan newspaper. He also spoke of ending "the sanctions on brotherly Iraq."

The remarks were carried by Jordan's official Petra news agency shortly before Cheney's arrival.

Bush administration officials have suggested that much of the recent rhetoric from Arab states is for domestic consumption. Jordan, for instance, has a large Palestinian population and borders Iraq.

U.S. officials hope that they can at least win private assurances from Arab leaders that they will not attempt to stand in the way of possible military strikes.

Cheney was welcomed at the airport by Jordan's prime minister, Ali Abul-Ragheb, who suggested that spiraling Israeli-Palestinian violence was one of the most urgent issues affecting the region and hoped the Cheney visit could help in "getting the process of peace back on track."

Arab nations want the United States to take a more active role, primarily by putting more pressure on Israel.

The palace statement issued late Tuesday by Jordan said that the king reviewed the "tense situation in the Palestinian territories."

Abdullah expressed hope that Zinni's mission will "succeed in salvaging the situation and enforcing a cease-fire."

"The American role is essential to ... end the cycle of violence and pave the way for putting the peace process back on the right track," the statement said.

Amid tight security, a 30-vehicle motorcade escorted Cheney across the Jordanian capital from the airport to Abdullah's hilltop residence of Beit al-Barakeh, or Blessing House, in Amman's suburbs.

A police helicopter hovered overhead, and streets along the nine-mile drive were sealed off by traffic police and lined with dozens of royal guards carrying machine-guns.

Cheney knew in advance he faced a hard sell trying to drum up Arab support for ridding Iraq of Saddam. He came to Jordan after a stop in London, where British Prime Minister Tony Blair voiced strong support for widening the terror war.

Jordan is the only Arab country to have sent forces to Afghanistan, U.S. officials noted.
  • Pete Brush

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