Cheney talks with Egypt on Iraq, Iran

omini.jpgWASHINGTON, May — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday toward the end of a regional tour, focusing on ways to stem chaos in Iraq and on Iran’s impact on security in the Gulf.

The talks with Mubarak, whose country is a key U.S. ally, were part of Washington’s efforts to help stabilize the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki amid U.S. concerns of deepening Iranian influence there.

The talks coincided with an Iranian announcement of readiness to hold talks in Baghdad with the United States aimed at establishing security in Iraq, although the timing of such talks was unclear. The United States said it was willing to attend the talks so long as they focused only on Iraq.

“The American side focused especially on the situation in Iraq and the Gulf, the security arrangements of the Gulf and the relation with the Iranian nuclear program,” Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told journalists.

“The president expressed Egypt’s support for the political process in Iraq and stressed that the success of this political process depends on building an Iraqi national accord.”

Cheney is known as one of the staunchest proponents in the Bush administration of a long-standing policy of shunning countries like Iran and Syria that it considers rogue states.

But Washington broke with that policy this month at a conference in Sharm el-Sheikh by holding top-level contact with Syria and signaling a willingness to do the same with Iran.

Washington accuses Tehran, with whom it has not had diplomatic ties for more than a quarter of a century, of supplying and training Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

Iran denies backing the insurgency in Iraq and accuses Washington of igniting tensions between Iraq’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims. Analysts say both Washington and Tehran are concerned about worsening violence, pushing them to agree to meet.

Analysts said Cheney had probably tried to smooth over any regional policy differences with Egypt and explain any recent shifts in policy toward the region. Cheney is due to hold similar talks on Monday with King Abdullah of U.S. ally Jordan.

“One of the things I think is important is that there is a lot of need to clear the air between the Bush administration and the moderate camp in the region,” said Abdel Monem Said of the al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

“Really, they have a lot of bad blood in the past couple years,” he said.

Several Arab countries have expressed concerns about the marginalization of Sunni Muslims in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and want Cheney to put benchmarks on Maliki’s government on national reconciliation, dismantling Shi’ite militias and giving Sunnis a greater say. – Reuters

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