With Iraq near all-out civil war, the Bush administration is renewing efforts to break the cycle of violence there by enlisting the help of moderate Arab nations while also seeking to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
| (Reuters Photo)
President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki are due to meet next week and Vice President Dick Cheney left for Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks on the Middle East.
"The vice president is looking forward to meeting with King Abdullah, a strong ally, to discuss regional issues of mutual interest," said Lea Anne McBride, Cheney’s spokeswoman, as the vice president’s plane made a brief stop in Ireland.
The United States wants Saudi Arabia to use its influence with Iraq’s Sunni minority to help stabilize the country. On Thursday, car bombs killed more than 200 people in a Shi’ite stronghold in Baghdad in the worst single attack since U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003.
Bush and Maliki will discuss security in Iraq at their meeting, in what is shaping up to be a crisis summit.
The surge in violence in Iraq came as U.S. public discontent with the Iraq war was hammered home in November 7 elections in which Bush’s Republican Party lost control of houses of Congress.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other European leaders want Bush to take a more active role in reviving the Middle East peace process. But Bush has so far avoided the hands-on approach to Middle East peacemaking of his predecessors.
That may change as Bush turns increasingly for advice to figures from his father’s administration like former Secretary of State James Baker who is leading a review on Iraq policy, some analysts said.
David Rothkopf, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Bush’s trip signaled a recognition that stability in Iraq depended on a regional approach.
"By going to Jordan to meet with Maliki, Bush is investing himself in a multilateral dialogue on the Middle East," Rothkopf said.
The Bush administration is also seeking help from Arab allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan in breaking a deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
"All of these issues of the Middle East are interrelated and you can’t solve any of them without looking at others," said one Arab diplomat.
There is pressure for the United States to meet with Iran and Syria over Iraq, but U.S. officials have been cool to the idea. One Western diplomat said Washington wanted to counter the threat it sees from Iran and Syria by co-opting moderate Arab nations on both Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
"They also want to allay regional fears that the United States is going to leave Iraq too soon. The big concern is about stability in the region," said the diplomat.
At the United Nations in September, Bush made clear resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict was a priority of his final two years in office and he charged his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, with tackling it.
After joining Bush in Amman, Rice will attend an annual Middle East conference in Jordan, where key Arab players may meet on the sidelines to discuss Arab-Israeli issues.
The administration’s point people on Israeli-Palestinian issues, David Welch and Elliott Abrams, have been shuttling between Arab states and Israel to move the process along.
However, a senior U.S. official said any movement depended on what happened with negotiations to form a new unity government in the Palestinian territories to replace the Hamas-led administration boycotted by the West.