Cheney's Waning Influence?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, July 18, 2008; 12:59 PM

Vice President Cheney doesn't act in plain view, so discerning his influence on the Bush presidency has always been a bit of a guessing game. And in the wake of the White House's shift on Iran policy -- from saber-rattling to talking -- one guess is that Cheney's influence, at least on this issue, is waning.

Could it be that President Bush is listening less to his hawkish vice president in hopes of leaving behind a somewhat less toxic foreign-policy legacy?

Elaine Sciolino and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in the New York Times: "With six months left in office, Mr. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appear to be looking for new ways to reach out to the Iranian people as the administration tries to bring a peaceful resolution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program.

"On Saturday, William J. Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official, is to arrive in Geneva to participate, along with European Union nations, in talks with Iran aimed at persuading it to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for economic and political incentives. The talks are a first."

Bush is also reportedly about to announce the establishing of a special interests section in Tehran, which would constitute the first American diplomatic presence in Iran in nearly three decades.

"One senior European official said that Mr. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, had told a number of his counterparts in Tokyo in recent weeks that Ms. Rice was committed to moving forward on the decision to put American diplomats in Tehran, but that the decision still faced opposition from conservatives.

"'My feeling is that the decision was more or less taken and the administration's problem was when and how to announce it,' the official said. 'They want to do it, but for domestic political reasons they don't know how and when, and maybe even if, they can do it.'"

Leonard Doyle writes for the Independent: "Condoleezza Rice was George Bush's handmaiden for the war in Iraq but she is now emerging as the best hope for avoiding a military conflict between the United States and Iran.

"The Secretary of State, who is one of the few people with the President's ear, has shown the door to Vice-President Dick Cheney's cabal of war-hungry advisers. . . .

"In public, Ms Rice has been as bellicose as any neo-con when it comes to Iran, calling dialogue with its leaders 'pointless' and declaring: 'For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.'

"She had been the prime mover behind Mr Bush's disastrous policy of 'preventive wars' and cheerleader of his expansive plans to reorganise the entire Middle East and to 'export democracy'. But with the rumblings of war with Iran growing steadily louder, Ms Rice worked feverishly behind the scenes to stop sparks from flying in the drive by the US and Israel to shut down Iran's nuclear programme."

Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times: "After years of escalating tensions and bloodshed, the talk in the Middle East is suddenly about talking. The shift is still relatively subtle, but hints of a new approach in the waning months of the Bush administration are fueling hopes of at least short-term stability for the first time since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. . . .

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