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Cheney Meets Egyptian Leader, Travels to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait


U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is on a whirlwind trip to the Middle East for talks with Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the political process in Iraq and on the West's standoffs with Syria and Iran.

The U.S. vice president had a working lunch with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on the king's desert ranch outside Riyadh.

Earlier in Egypt, Mr. Cheney held wide-ranging talks over breakfast with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Vice President Cheney's talks with both leaders dealt with largely the same set of topics, including the tension between Lebanon and Syria after the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri nearly a year ago. They also discussed the situation in Iraq, the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, the health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the upcoming Palestinian and Israeli elections.

One of the key issues the nuclear standoff with Iran, which recently revived its nuclear program over the objections of Europe and the United States.

The Egyptian leader's spokesman told reporters in Cairo that Mr. Cheney asked for Egypt's support in referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its resumption of nuclear research.

Egypt is one of the 35 nations on the board of governors for the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, which is being asked to decide whether the issue should go to the Security Council.

But the spokesman, Suleiman Awad, said Egypt will only support such a move if it is free from what he called "double standards," a reference to Israel.

"The least thing we need in the Middle East is a nuclear weapon arms race," he said. "But having said that, we cannot ignore our long-standing principled position, we cannot ignore our Arab world public opinion, refusing to put this focus and make all this fuss on Iranian nuclear program, while lending a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Israeli nuclear program and arsenal."

Israel will neither confirm nor deny having nuclear weapons, but it is widely believed to possess them.

The spokesman said Egypt is calling for more dialogue over the Iranian nuclear standoff. He said Egypt is urging Iran to show more cooperation and flexibility.

The U.S. vice president was also scheduled to make a brief stop in Kuwait before leaving the region, to pay his respects to the new emir after the death this week of Kuwait's longtime ruler.

Mr. Cheney's trip to the Middle East is a continuation of a visit he started in December, but had to cut short to fly back to Washington and cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

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