Cheney wraps up Mideast trip with little to show 2008-03-25 20:28:26   Print

    by Wei Jianhua

    BEIJING, March 25 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has not made meaningful headway on the thorny issues of Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the world energy crisis during his 10-day trip to the volatile Middle East, analysts said.

    Cheney's tour, which included surprise stops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and scheduled visits to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank, "won't produce anything meaningful because he (Cheney) has got nothing to offer," Steven Simon, a U.S. expert on Middle Eastern issues, said.

    Cheney's trip, which he wraps up Tuesday, has been viewed as a move to express the U.S.' continued concern over the situation in the region rather than one aimed at making any tangible progress.


    Not much support for Iraq was secured from the Arab countries during Cheney's trip, which coincided with the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003.

    The anniversary prompted intense rhetoric from critics of the invasion, even as the U.S. military death toll in Iraq hit 4,000.

    Cheney, who was one of the engineers of the war and continues to be one of its main defenders, was believed to have embarked on his Mideast tour at this juncture to rally support for the U.S.' Iraq policy.

    The U.S. wants Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies to establish a diplomatic presence in Iraq and help the country's post-war reconstruction.

    A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the vice president "will be looking to encourage the Saudis as well as other Arab countries to continue to support the international community's efforts to help Iraq."

    Cheney also went to the Sultanate of Oman to convince it to do more to confront the Iranian influence in Iraq, but the visit is expected to produce little result.

    "He represents a lame duck president, a floundering economy, a situation in which the U.S., for all its efforts in Iraq, has no leverage on the government in Baghdad," said Simon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.


    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pledged to try to forge a peace deal before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009 at a conference Bush hosted last November in Annapolis, Maryland.

    But little visible progress has been made on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process due to the ongoing violence and Israeli construction on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

    Cheney's tour of Jerusalem and the West Bank was aimed at reinforcing the message from visits by Bush in January and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earlier this month, in a stepped-up diplomatic push for Israelis and Palestinians to move forward on peace efforts.

    Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, admitted the situation has deteriorated significantly since the conference, adding that Cheney will "be able to arrest the slide if not necessarily put things on track."

    Israel is conducting peace negotiations with Abbas' West Bank-based government while waging a bloody battle with Hamas militants in Gaza.

    Edward Abbington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem and now an adviser to Abbas, said neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are convinced that Cheney is an integral player in the peace process.

    "They told me they had no idea why Cheney was even coming to see them," Abbington said, "The Israelis are more interested in what Cheney has to say about Iran and blessing their continued strikes against Gaza than anything he has to say about the peace process."


    Cheney's trip to Saudi Arabia highlighted the issue of the unsteady global energy market, which has seen soaring oil prices that have dealt a blow to the U.S. economy alongside a housing market crisis.

    The United States wants world oil producers to increase output to ease oil prices, but Bush's call in January for OPEC to increase production was turned down, with the crude oil exporters' group deciding to hold production steady.

    Cheney, who was expected to keep pressing the issue, chose to turn to Saudi Arabia for oil output increase as it is the only OPEC member that can easily add significant amounts of extra oil to the market.

    No commitment, however, has been made from the Saudi side to increase output despite a "good and thorough discussion" between Cheney and the Saudi King.

    The result, some analysts said, was expected as Cheney could not exert much pressure on the Gulf countries to have them raise oil production or to encourage OPEC to do so.

Editor: Sun Yunlong
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