- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise stop in Baghdad today, as he began a tour of the Middle East that will focus on moving along the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and on persuading Gulf States to increase oil output and isolate Iran. Mr. Cheney and a small group of reporters flew in Air Force Two to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base in Britain. There they switched on to a C-17 cargo plane, carrying a specially outfitted trailer for the vice president, who at 68 has a long history of heart and blood clot problems. The vice president is meeting today with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, and then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Meetings with several other Iraqi political and religious figures are planned, a senior administration official said. The official, speaking to reporters on the C-17 en route to Baghdad, said that since Mr. Cheney was in Iraq last May, this trip is a chance for him to see how much things in Bagdhad have changed. Mr. Cheney planned to thank the Iraqis for passing a few key laws, but to press them to pass an oil law, which would share oil revenues among the different regions but remains a sticking point for the three main ethnic factions. Provincial elections, possibly next fall, will also be a discussion item. The senior White House official also criticized the trip of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Baghdad earlier this month, saying it was not successful. The official said that the Iranian president remained in Baghdad the whole time, and that his plan to meet with various officials outside the capital city was frustrated. The official also said that Mr. Ahmadinejad is unlikely to improve Irans commercial ties with Iraq. Im not sure hes going to get [them], the official said.

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