Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday made a surprise stop in Baghdad, where he acknowledged that Iraq remains a dangerous place, but stressed that he now sees “a greater sense of urgency” among Iraqi leaders to stabilize the nation and end sectarian violence.

“I did sense, today, a greater awareness on the part of the Iraqi officials I talked to of the importance of their working together to resolve these issues in a timely fashion,” said the vice president, who visited the secure Green Zone and was in the U.S. Embassy when an explosion rattled the building’s windows.

“I do believe that there’s a greater sense of urgency,” said Mr. Cheney. “I think they recognize it’s in their interests as well as ours to make progress on the political front. … They do believe we are making progress but we have a long way to go.”

The vice president, who is on the first leg of a weeklong Middle East trip, also had some stern words for the Iraqi parliament, which has been planning to take a two-month summer recess.

“I did make it clear that we believe it’s very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion and that any undue delay would be difficult to explain and that we hoped they would approach these issues with all deliberate dispatch, if I can put it in those terms,” the vice president said.

He declined to say whether he had persuaded the Iraqi parliament to cancel its recess. “I can’t make that prediction. That’s a sovereign issue.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said it was “very disappointing to hear the vice president say that the Iraqis’ decision to take a vacation while our troops are dying is ‘a sovereign issue to them.’ ”

The Bush administration has grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of Iraqi reforms, including regional elections and security training. Mr. Cheney would not say yesterday whether he had secured any specific commitments from the Iraqi government but that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would address those issues this week in a speech to lawmakers.

Mr. Cheney rejected congressional Democrats’ plan to fund the Iraq war in two-month increments. He said any legislation should not limit “either the flexibility of our commanders on the ground in Iraq or … the president’s constitutional prerogatives as commander in chief.”

Mr. al-Maliki said he and Mr. Cheney discussed “practical steps … to support our efforts working on both the security front as well as the domestic political issues.”

The Iraqi leader was upbeat. “We have achieved in Iraq — we have achieved our own constitution, we have achieved freedom, we have achieved democracy and we have achieved sovereignty throughout our country,” he said.

Mr. Cheney said his meeting with Mr. al-Maliki focused on the security crackdown in Baghdad, which is seen as belated effort to prevent a civil war between majority Shi’ites and once-dominant Sunni Arabs.

Mr. Cheney wore a bulletproof vest from the airport but was upbeat about progress on the security front. The U.S. Embassy in the once-secure Green Zone last week ordered all employees to wear flak vests and helmets while in unprotected buildings or outside.

Reporters covering the Cheney visit were hustled into a secure area when a large explosion rattled windows in the U.S. Embassy late in the afternoon. Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said the vice president’s meeting “was not disturbed and he was not moved.”

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