Cheney Says Middle East Tour Yields Pledges of Support

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 14, 2007; 4:12 PM

Vice President Cheney, returning to Washington from a Middle East tour, said today he received pledges of support from Arab countries to help stabilize Iraq but that it was also important to make progress "simultaneously" on Arab-Israeli peace.

In a brief question-and-answer session with pool reporters on his plane after leaving Jordan, Cheney also dismissed the notion that there was any contradiction between his tough talk about Iran during the trip and White House plans for the U.S. ambassador to Iraq to meet with Iranian officials in Baghdad.

"They're separate issues," Cheney said. "The president made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors, focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran's interference in the internal affairs of Iraq. A separate proposition is the fact that the international community, including the United States, is deeply concerned about Iran's pursuit of enrichment technology for building nuclear weapons and that the Iranians are, in fact, in violation now of two unanimously-approved U.N. security council resolutions calling for them to stop what they're doing."

During a visit Friday to a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf about 150 miles off the Iranian coast, Cheney vowed that the United States would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and "dominating" the region, and he said U.S. forces would keep open the sea lanes that carry about 20 percent of the world's oil trade.

Addressing sailors and Marines aboard the USS John C. Stennis about 20 miles off Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Cheney said Washington will "stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region."

In a visit to Abu Dhabi today, Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, defiantly threatened strong retaliation for any U.S. attack and pledged to continue pursuing a nuclear energy program, Reuters news agency reported.

"They realize that if they make such a mistake, the retaliation of Iran would be severe and they will repent," Ahmadinejad said, referring to the prospect of a U.S. attack on his country. "All people know they cannot strike us," he told a news conference. "Iran is capable of defending itself. It is a strong country."

Vowing not to abandon its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad said, "Superpowers cannot prevent us from owning this energy."

The Bush administration has said it does not dispute Iran's right to build nuclear power plants but has demanded that Tehran give up its programs to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel -- activities that can yield material for nuclear weapons as well as fuel for electricity-generating nuclear reactors. The U.N. Security Council has backed the U.S. position, imposing sanctions on Iran for failing to suspend its enrichment program.

In his news conference in Abu Dhabi three days after Cheney's visit, Ahmadinejad said Iran had agreed to talk to the United States about Iraq to help the Iraqi people, but he kept up his criticism of the U.S. role in that country, Reuters reported.

"They know that their plans have failed in Iraq; their vision is wrong," he said. "As long as you are plotting against the Iraqi people, failure will be there day after day."

Ahmadinejad's comments came a day after the White House confirmed that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, would meet with Iranian counterparts in Baghdad in the next several weeks to talk about stabilizing Iraq and curtailing Iranian aid to Iraqi militias.

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