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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Cheney plugs away at Middle East peace efforts, promises help to Yemen

March 14, 2002

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— Vice President Dick Cheney brought a promise of more U.S. military aid and friendship to Osma bin Laden's ancestral home Thursday in a bid to shore up Yemen's fragile support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Under extreme security measures, Cheney flew into this rugged and partly lawless country to meet with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Aides traveling with Cheney said the vice president would press Saleh on what kind of support he needed to help prevent his country from becoming a sanctuary for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

The United States has already sent advisers to begin training security forces to help patrol Yemen's 1,500-mile coastline.

Cheney was spending less than two hours in Yemen, meeting with Saleh and other officials in a building at the airport before heading on to Oman, another Persian Gulf nation.

An adviser to the Yemeni government, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one of the things discussed by Cheney and Saleh was a U.S. promise to send military advisers to Yemen soon. He said the current plan is for at least three teams of 20 to 30 U.S. advisers to spend several months in Yemen.

However, the adviser said his country also is looking forward to increased economic aid from the United States, including money for increased coastal patrols. But he said there was strong sentiment against having U.S. troops chase terrorists in Yemen.

"It is a Yemeni war against terrorism, but they want to do it themselves," he said of government officials. "They don't want to do the Americans to do the fighting."

Senior U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the stop in Yemen was added to Cheney's schedule after Saleh telephoned President Bush to request a visit.

Cheney is the highest level U.S. official to visit to Yemen since, then-Vice President George H. Bush, the president's father, visited in 1987.

He flew on a specially fitted C-17 cargo plane, spending much of the 2 1/2-hour flight from Egypt in the cockpit.

Cheney says one purpose of his trip is to try to persuade Arab governments not to provide a haven for where the al-Qaida organization, hit hard in Afghanistan, could rebuild.

Saleh is cooperating with the United States to keep al-Qaida fighters from establishing a new base in the remote frontier regions of Yemen that border Saudi Arabia.

As he tours the region, Cheney also is pledging a stronger U.S. effort to try to end Israeli-Palestinian violence, although he says the two battling sides must do more to end the bloodshed.

Cheney says he hopes to get the derailed peace process back on track, a subject that is coming up more insistently at each of his stops as he tours the Middle East.

"I think the burden is on both parties to bring an end to the violence," Cheney said Wednesday, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at his side.

Mubarak told reporters he and Cheney agreed it was essential to move quickly to try to get in place a process to end the spiraling violence and get both Palestinians and Israelis back into peace negotiations.

Mubarak cited "great concern" over what he called "the current deteriorating situation in the Middle East."

The Bush administration moved for a higher peacekeeping profile Wednesday night by sending to the region retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, President Bush's personal envoy. Zinni's most pressing problem will be to broker a cease-fire.

So far in Cheney's tour, he has visited two traditional U.S. allies in the region, Jordan and Egypt. In both places, he heard criticism from leaders of potential U.S. plans to widen the war against terror into Iraq.

Cheney said Wednesday that he came to the Middle East to discuss "our continuing cooperative efforts to fight terrorism and our determination to promote Arab and Israeli peace and reconciliation."

"We are conferring as well about challenges to regional security and the threat that weapons of mass destruction pose to all of us," said Cheney.

Cheney is focusing on what the Bush administration sees as efforts by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Mubarak reiterated his opposition Wednesday to any military action against Iraq at this time and said he believes Saddam is close to agreeing to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.

"We are going to meet some of his special envoys and tell them that this is a must," Mubarak said. He left open the possibility of stronger action against Iraq if he refuses to yield on weapons inspections.

U.S. officials have said any new inspection regime in Iraq that does not give weapons inspectors complete freedom of action would be unacceptable.

"The vice president made clear our view on inspectors. They need to be very robust," said Cheney spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise. As far as what Mubarak meant, we're not going to try to interpret his words for him."

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