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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 22:02 GMT
Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
Dick Cheney with US soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War
The US has threatened action against Iraq
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By the BBC's Tom Carver
Washington correspondent
line

This is the first in a series of despatches from our correspondent, who accompanies US Vice President Dick Cheney on his Middle East tour. En route, the vice president stopped in London.

Mr Cheney is not a man of many words.

Journalists often complain about his grey, unrevealing demeanour, but he is straightforward.

He said he came to London not to announce any decisions on Iraq, but to consult friends and allies.

He said that America had learnt from the evidence picked up in Afghanistan that al-Qaeda had tried very hard to pick up weapons of mass destruction.

Military attack?

He was troubled by what he called the possibility of a "marriage" between terrorists and countries which have these weapons, such as Iraq.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
A strike against Saddam Hussein's Iraq could spark a wider war

And he said that the only inspections regime America would be willing to see in Iraq is one that has the freedom to go anywhere at any time, which Saddam Hussein has made clear he will not allow.

All this leaves very little room for doubt: America is examining the possibilities of a military attack on Iraq.

But discussing an attack is not the same as launching one.

Laying groundwork

Dick Cheney said nothing about a timetable and his officials all say a lot of groundwork still has to be laid.

What he is doing is softening up public opinion abroad; getting them used to military action so that when it happens, no-one can accuse the Americans of going ahead without warning.

Tony Blair is happy to go along with the Americans because he firmly believes that the only way to ensure that Saddam never gets his hands on nuclear weapons in the long run is to remove him from power altogether.

Behind the scenes, however, the British are trying to ensure that Washington really thinks through the implications of the action.

Volatile neighbourhood

The easy part may be a military strike, as rebuilding a post-Saddam Iraq will be very tough.

Almost certainly there will be ethnic fighting.

Every country in the region will want to have a say in what Iraq should be rebuilt as and the US and the UK could well be caught in the middle.

It could also spark a wider war in a very volatile neighbourhood.

All that and more still has to be thought through, which is why Dick Cheney is on tour.

See also:

11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Cheney and Blair give Iraq warning
11 Mar 02 | Americas
US remembers 11 September
11 Mar 02 | UK Politics
War on terror progress report
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney seeks Mid-East support
11 Mar 02 | Americas
War 'playing into al-Qaeda's hands'
10 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK plays down Iraq force 'requests'
10 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney seeks Mid-East support
09 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq attacks US over arms inspections
08 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair facing revolt over Iraq
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Profile: Dick Cheney
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
Washington's case against Saddam
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