CAIRO, Egypt, AP -Vice President Dick Cheney met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Tuesday for talks on the political process in Iraq and the West’s standoffs with Syria and Iran.
After meeting with Mubarak, Cheney was expected to travel to Saudi Arabia later Tuesday for talks with King Abdullah. He added a stop Wednesday in Kuwait to pay his respects after the death of the country’s emir, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, over the weekend.
Arab diplomats said high on the agenda will be the situation in Iraq following the Dec. 15 elections, the crisis with Syria over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and a looming standoff over the Iranian nuclear program.
The diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues, said both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are particularly concerned over the role of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority after Shiite victories in the vote.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt — both key U.S. allies — are the two Arab powers behind an Iraqi national reconciliation conference that is expected to convene next month in Iraq to clear the way for a larger Sunni participation in the political process.
Cheney’s visit comes amid an escalating confrontation with Iran, with Washington and Europe moving to bring Tehran before the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been reluctant to publicly criticize Iran for its nuclear activities, urging instead to declare the whole Middle East — including Israel — a nuclear free zone. Washington has rejected that idea.
Cheney also is expected to discuss the crisis with Syria over accusations that Damascus was involved in the Feb. 14 killing of Hariri and the slayings of anti-Syrian activists in Lebanon. President Bashar Assad is reportedly asking Saudi Arabia and Egypt to help defuse the situation.
Cheney is making the trip to visit stops that were cut from his Middle East tour last month when he rushed back to Washington to cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate on legislation to cut federal deficits.