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Cheney Faces Challenges on Mideast Visit - 2002-03-13


U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, on a tour that will take him to Turkey, Israel, and nine Arab countries has arrived in Egypt for talks with President Mubarak. But the escalating violence in the Middle East may overshadow the vice president's intended mission to the region.

The announced reason for Vice President Cheney's visit to the Middle East is to discuss the war on terrorism.

Observers also say he wants to gauge the mood regarding possible action against Iraq. Four of the countries Mr. Cheney is scheduled to visit border Iraq.

But Arab leaders are far more concerned about escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence. Earlier this week, Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo urgently appealed for American and European intervention in an effort to stop the bloodshed.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution, affirming a vision of a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel, within secure and recognized borders. The resolution demands an immediate end to all acts of violence in the region and urges Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take steps towards resuming peace talks.

Retired Egyptian Army General Mohammed Kadry Sa'id is the military specialist at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He says Arab leaders are in no position to discuss changes in Iraq because of concerns about Palestinians.

"The people see blood in Palestine and then suddenly they hear about Iraq, so they cannot relate the two things together," said General Sa'id. "Arabic leaders cannot suddenly speak with their people that our priority is to change the regime in Iraq or remove [President] Saddam [Hussein]. This is not, in my view, understandable on the Arabic street now. The Arab leaders are not ready politically and morally to deal with it."

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said Arab leaders "will press the vice president to shelve any plan for a military strike against Iraq." Instead, Mr. Moussa said, they will "push Mr. Cheney to concentrate on the Saudi peace initiative and on ending Israeli-Palestinian violence."

Walid Kazziha teaches political science at American University in Cairo. He says with the region suffering the economic effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, no one in the Middle East is ready to contemplate military action against Iraq.

"Launching a war against Iraq would mean less tourism," said Mr. Kazziha. "It would mean less investments. It would mean, in total, economic deterioration further than the one we have been experiencing since September 11. So the whole region would be poisoned and destabilize and no one in this region has an interest in launching a war against Iraq."

Abdullah el Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at several universities in Cairo. He says Vice President Cheney should feel free to discuss whatever he likes, including the war on terrorism and Iraq, as long as he shows Arab leaders a willingness to deal first with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

"I think if he talks about some sort of cooperation between the Arab world and the United States for a potential fight against terrorism in the future, this would be a very good political base to work in the future," said Mr. el Ashaal. "But he has to do something in the Palestine question."

Vice President Cheney began his 11-country tour in Britain. Tuesday he was in Jordan. Mr. Cheney will also travel to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Turkey and Israel.

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