Egyptian, Saudi leaders urge Cheney to seek more negotiations over Iran

Egypt: We call for Iran to show more flexibility and cooperation, and we call for a continuation of dialogue with Iran.

dick cheney  (photo credit: AP)
dick cheney
(photo credit: AP)
The Arab world's two major powers urged US Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday to give negotiations more time in the growing diplomatic conflict over Iran's nuclear program. As Cheney wound up a meeting with King Abdullah at his ranch outside Riyadh late Tuesday, officials close to the talks said the Saudi monarch had spoken of "the necessity of giving negotiations chance" before pressing for Iran's referral to the United Nations Security Council. The message was similar earlier Tuesday when Cheney sat down with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Neither leader spoke to reporters, but Mubarak's spokesman said Cairo would "wait and see whether there will be a consensus" on dealing with Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog. "We call for Iran to show more flexibility and cooperation, and we call for a continuation of dialogue with Iran," presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said. He declared Egypt could not "ignore our long-standing principled position ... which refuses to put all this fuss and focus on the Iranian nuclear program without looking at Israel's nuclear arsenal. We cannot give support to a resolution unless it makes reference to the universality of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and unless it is free of double standards." Israel neither denies nor confirms it has nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have them. Washington is lobbying the 35-member Board of Governors to refer Iran to the Security Council over its recent decision to break UN seals on nuclear equipment and resume small-scale enrichment of uranium - a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors as well as material for atomic bombs. Egypt is a member of the IAEA board. The US drive against Iran already has met resistance from Russia and China, which are holding out hope for a compromise, saying Iran had not ruled out having its nuclear fuel processed in Russia, which would allow greater oversight. While many Gulf leaders are concerned over Iran's nuclear program, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular fear putting Iran before the Security Council could sharpen the confrontation, and both countries feel the West should do more about Israel's nuclear arsenal. Awad said Cheney did not discuss Egyptian domestic issues with Mubarak. The vice president had been expected to broach democratic reforms after Egypt's recent parliamentary elections, which were marred by violence and police blockades of polling stations in opposition strongholds. The talks in Saudi Arabia were joined by intelligence chief Prince Mogrin bin Abdel Aziz, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and the Saudi ambassador to Washington and former intelligence boss, Prince Turki bin al-Faisal. The king and Cheney also discussed the postelection situation in Iraq, ways to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace process afloat after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke and the escalating standoff with Syria over charges it was involved in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister. The United States is demanding that Damascus show greater cooperation with a UN investigation into the February assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister. Arab leaders worry Washington is using the probe to try to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose security officials have been implicated in the killing. On Iraq, Arab nations want to ensure a strong representation for the Sunni Arab minority in the new government after victories by the country's Shiite majority in Dec. 15 elections. Arab diplomats had said before the Cheney-Abdullah talks that Saudi Arabia was particularly concerned about the West's worsening relations with Iran. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions. "The Saudis believe that all these issues are interconnected and should be dealt with as a package," said one Arab diplomat in Riyadh. "What happens with Iran will be reflected in Iraq, and what happens there will be reflected in the kingdom," he said. The diplomats also said the Saudis had been expected to present Cheney with a deal on Syria, whereby President Bashar Assad would end interference in Lebanon and extend cooperation with the UN investigation into Hariri's assassination, in exchange for an end to US-led Western pressure on Assad's regime. Prince Saudi told the Financial Times on Tuesday that the kingdom had also presented Lebanon and Syria with a proposed agreement to defuse tensions between the two neighboring countries. Cheney had been scheduled to visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia last year, but he had to cancel the stopovers and rush back to Washington for a congressional vote. Late Tuesday, Cheney flew to Kuwait to pay his respects to the ruling family over the death Sunday of Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah.