By ROHAN SULLIVAN
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 24, 2007; 7:25 PM
SYDNEY, Australia -- Vice President Dick Cheney, in a series of blunt and sometimes biting statements during a visit to Asia, defended the Iraq war, attacked administration critics at home and warned that the U.S. would confront potential adversaries abroad.
His visit was meant to thank Australia and Japan for their support in Iraq. But in a series of public appearances and media interviews, Cheney's tone was typically feisty.
Answering growing criticism in the U.S. and Australia, he defended the Iraq war as a "remarkable achievement" in one speech, and dismissed suggestions his influence in Washington is waning.
At a news conference Saturday, Cheney warned that "all options" are on the table if Iran continues to defy U.N.-led efforts to end Tehran's nuclear ambitions, leaving the door open to military action.
Cheney's support for the Iraq war _ he is considered one of the key proponents of the 2003 invasion _ drew protesters into Sydney's streets for two days.
But the crowds were small and the clashes brief, and Cheney enjoyed a generally warm welcome, including lunch at Australian Prime Minister John Howard's harborside mansion and a cruise past the Sydney Opera House.
On Saturday, he held talks with Howard _ who at one point felt compelled to defend his friendly relations with the White House. Cheney left Australia on Sunday morning.
In Japan, Cheney asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq would "validate the al-Qaida strategy."
A furious Pelosi complained to the White House that Cheney was impugning the patriotism of critics of the war. Cheney refused to back down: "I said it and I meant it," he told ABC News. "I didn't question her patriotism, I questioned her judgment."
He took a similarly uncompromising stand on Iran, criticizing its defiance of a U.N. deadline for freezing its uranium enrichment programs. While the White House seeks a peaceful resolution to the problem, he said, he did not rule out military action.
Cheney was more diplomatic, but no less direct, on Friday when he discussed North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and China's rapid modernization of its 2.3 million-strong military forces.
Noting that China _ an emerging economic power _ had hit a defunct weather satellite with a missile last month, Cheney said that some of the country's actions were at odds with its pledge to develop peacefully.
In the same speech, though, he praised China for its help in persuading North Korea to seal its main nuclear reactor in exchange for oil. But Cheney added North Korea had "much to prove," namely that it would honor the deal.
Michael McKinley, an expert in Australia-U.S. relations at the Australian National University, said Cheney's association with an Iraq policy that many see as a failure has made him unpopular, but it is too soon to write off his influence.
Cheney is still a force in the White House, McKinley said, and "in the area of foreign and defense policy, he is the power."
During Cheney's visit to Australia _ one of the United States' staunchest allies in Iraq _ he said history would ultimately judge the war a success, pointing to the end of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship and Iraq's democratic elections. The U.S., he said, has put Iraq "well on the road to establishing a viable democracy."
Cheney told ABC News that media speculation that he had lost influence within the Bush administration was inaccurate, just as earlier speculation that he was the all-powerful was wrong.
"I think people fall into the trap of focusing on that and talking about it and reporters writing about it, but it rarely reflects reality," he said. "So I don't worry about those stories."
Howard, who faces increasing pressure to begin withdrawing Australian troops and did not attend Cheney's speech on Friday, rejected suggestions the government was keeping a polite distance from the vice president during the visit. National elections are due later this year.
"It's never a political liability, ever, for the prime minister of Australia to have a good relationship with the president and the vice president of the United States," Howard said.
Cheney seemed comfortable knowing that not all Australians like him, telling The Australian that not all the gestures directed as he cruises around in his motorcade are friendly waves.
"Driving through Sydney is a lot like driving through New York City," Cheney said. "You get some waves, and then you get some other waves. And that goes with living in a democracy. ... That's as it should be."