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Saturday, 16 March, 2002, 22:45 GMT
Saudis press Cheney on Israel
Crown Prince Abdullah greets Dick Cheney
Saudi Arabia is an important US ally
US Vice President Dick Cheney has held talks in Saudi Arabia on the latest stop on his tour to drum up support for the "second phase" of the US-led war against terrorism.

But Mr Cheney is finding little support in the Middle East for military action against Iraq, widely thought to be America's next target.

Saddam Hussein
The US believes Saddam Hussein is acquiring weapons of mass destruction
The BBC's Tom Carver, who is travelling with the vice president, says that Mr Cheney is hearing the same message from Arab leaders - that America must stop the fighting between Israeli and the Palestinians before it can expect Arab support for a military assault on Iraq.

There is also genuine anger at America's hands-off policy towards Israel.

Arab officials believe that the United States is the only country capable of influencing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Our correspondent says that Mr Cheney has tried to avoid getting drawn into the peace talks.

But his mere presence in the region appears to have increased Mr Sharon's willingness to agree to some kind of ceasefire in time for the arrival of the US vice-president in Israel on Monday.

Issues linked

Dick Cheney's staff insist that they are here to discuss the wider war on terrorism rather than Middle East peace.

But in the minds of the Arab world the two are inextricably linked.

An open letter to Mr Cheney in the Saudi Gazette, the main English language newspaper, asks how America can justify trying to eliminate Iraq's Saddam Hussein while doing nothing to rein in Ariel Sharon.

Dick Cheney with National Guard troops in Egypt
The US has forces based in the Middle East
Both men are butchers, the paper says, referring to Ariel Sharon's role in the Israeli-Lebanon war.

Mr Cheney flew to the Saudi port city of Jeddah on Saturday - the same day that he had visited Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In an interview with the BBC, senior Saudi Government officials said they would not allow the US to fly combat missions against Iraq from Saudi bases.

Senior sources in the Riyadh government said that although they might countenance an attempt on the life of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, they would not support wide-ranging air strikes.

Peace plan

A BBC correspondent says that the Saudi ruling family fears the reaction of its own population if American war planes were to kill more Arabs and Muslims.

The official Saudi news agency SPA said the talks with Mr Cheney covered "international efforts to combat terrorism" as well as the peace plan for the Middle East put forward by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

The proposal - which would mean Arab recognition of the state of Israel in return for Israel's complete withdrawal from occupied Palestinian land - has won strong support around the world, including in the US.

The plan is to be presented for endorsement to an Arab summit in Beirut on 27-28 March.

Visit to troops

In the UAE, the official news agency WAM said President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan had "made it known that the Emirates are opposed to any military strike against Iraq".

The UAE leader also urged the US to "put an end to the grave Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tom Carver
"Mr Cheney has been battling against a bit of a headwind"
See also:

16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney welcomed in opulent Gulf
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney warned over Iraq attack
12 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Cheney and Blair give Iraq warning
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq keeps talking on arms inspectors
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Profile: Dick Cheney
14 Mar 02 | Middle East
Yemen: Centre stage of war on al-Qaeda
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