Cheney, Saudi king meet on ME crises

US seeking help in checking growing violence in Iran, Lebanon, and the PA.

saudi king 298  (photo credit: AP)
saudi king 298
(photo credit: AP)
US Vice President Dick Cheney held talks with King Abdullah on Saturday seeking Saudi Arabia's help on dealing with the spiraling violence in Iraq and a string of crises in the Mideast where American policy is on the line: Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Cheney's brief trip to the kingdom, which lasted less than a day, underlined the two allies' concerns over the upheavals across the region that many Arabs blame on US policies and Washington and Riyadh's determination to explore ways to break the deadlock - if only partially. In a sign of the urgency of the US concern in the Middle East, President George W. Bush is scheduled to meet with Iraq's prime minister in the Jordanian capital Wednesday and Thursday - an unusual sucession of visits by the president and vice president to the region. Both trips were planned before outbursts of violence this week dramatically worsened the situation in two countries of key US interest, Iraq and Lebanon. On Tuesday, an anti-Syrian Lebanese politician was gunned down in Beirut, highlighting the fragility of the US-backed government and threatening to push Lebanon's political crisis into turmoil. Then in Iraq, Sunni insurgents unleashed a string of car bombs that killed more than 200 people Thursday in a Shi'ite district of Baghdad, giving a new push to Iraq's descent into chaos. During the talks at Riyadh's Yamama Palace, Cheney and Abdullah were tackling both those conflicts, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian front, which stands at a key crossroads amid attempts to form a new Palestinian government and relaunch peace negotiations. Cheney was expected to ask Saudi Arabia to use its considerable influence with Iraq's Sunni minority, whose insurgents have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks against US troops and Iraqi Shi'ites, to promote reconciliation with the country's Shi'ites and Kurds, a Saudi official said. In return, Saudi Arabia will ask the US to help rein in Iraq's Shi'ite militias, blamed in sectarian attacks that have killed thousands, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. After Thursday's slaughter of Shi'ites, it will be even harder to take action against militias. In the wake of the bombings, one of the Shi'ite parties threatened to withdraw from al-Maliki's government if he went ahead with the summit with Bush. The White House said the meeting was still on. The kingdom, which shares a 900-kilometer border with Iraq, has repeatedly voiced concern over the violence there, urging the United States to do something to bring calm. On Monday, the Saudi Cabinet urged US-led troops to protect Iraq's borders and prevent external political, intelligence or security hegemony over parts of the country. On Lebanon, Saudi Arabia wants to ensure there are no cracks in the support for the US-backed government, which groups allied with Syria and Iran want to overthrow, the official said. Saudi Arabia has strong links to the anti-Syrian bloc that dominates Lebanon's Cabinet. On the Palestinian front, the official said Saudi Arabia hopes that Washington would not snub any Palestinian government that emerges from talks between Hamas and the moderate Fatah faction. Washington has shunned the government led by Hamas, which has refused to recognize Israel and renounce violence against the Jewish state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, is trying to work out a new national unity government with Hamas, but Arabs are hoping the US will be flexible with how much Hamas must moderate or be sidelined in a new government to allow a resumption of the peace process with US ally Israel. After the talks, Cheney attended a dinner by the king then left for the United States, the US Embassy said, without comment on the discussions. Saudi officials were not available for comments on the results of the meeting.