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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 08:00 GMT
Road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem
The door opens. There's a rumble of security guards. The cameramen jump to their positions behind their cameras like machine gunners.
Dick Cheney walks in, with a lopsided smile. Next to him is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They are both thickset, meat and potatoes kind of politicians.
In public, Dick Cheney is a man of few words - which he spits out like bits of rock.
"The thing about Cheney," one of the American old hands said, "is that he says less than he means. You have to amplify what he says by 20 per cent."
On TV, he exudes a virtual anti-matter when it comes to charisma. In fact, for several months when he disappeared altogether into some strange vortex called 'an undisclosed location', Americans heard Osma bin Laden speak more than their vice president.
But appearances are deceptive.
He may keep his ego in check in public but in private Mr Cheney is one of the most powerful - if not the most powerful - vice-president America has ever had.
It was Franklin Roosevelt's deputy who famously said the office wasn't worth a bucket of warm pee. Nothing could be less true for Mr Cheney.
The trip was a kaleidoscope of sultans, sheikhs, emirs, kings and presidents. We saw them all. By the end, I was having difficulty distinguishing between one palace from the next.
I had had enough of marble and gold-plated taps and found myself longing for my normal sized bathroom at home and a standard lamp instead of a chandelier.
By general consensus among our small platoon of journalists, the most spectacular place we stayed was the Ritz-Carlton in Qatar.
My room was the size of a large Manhattan apartment. It had not one but two bathrooms, a huge sitting room - with of course a chandelier - and a large balcony.
So to set up my satellite phone, I had to get onto the hotel roof. Two technicians led me through the kitchens and boiler room and out into a hurricane.
Much to the amusement of the Qatari sharpshooters stationed on the roof, I then spent the evening battling to stop my phone flying into space and trying to file at the same time.
I didn't get to see much of the room.
In Jerusalem, we stayed in the legendary King David. As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mr Cheney haggled upstairs in the private floors over whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should be allowed to go to the Arab League summit, I wandered down towards the old town.
The city is empty these days. A pall of despair seems to hang over it. The government has been reduced to subsidising bus tours in an attempt to lure tourists - not a group Jerusalem is normally ever short of.
It's a sign of how desperate the Israelis have become that 46 per cent of them support the idea of transferring every Palestinian to Jordan.
The idea is absurd and unworkable, but these days Israelis cling to anything that claims to offer an end to the suicide bombings.
Travelling through such a region at such velocity - on two days we visited three countries a day - it's the differences rather than the similarities you notice.
From the hot muggy fog of the Gulf to Israel bursting with flowers and on to the snows of Ankara where spring has not yet touched the tall thin poplars is only four hours.
Was the trip a success? Diplomacy is a continuum with no beginning or end.
Only historians are really in a position to judge success or failure.
Mr Cheney didn't get Arab backing for a war on Iraq. Every time he mentioned the subject, it was like pushing a stick into a wasp's nest.
Everyone has a price and the Arab's world's price for supporting an American campaign is American commitment to the Palestinian/Israeli issue.
There is a lot of anger at the administration's obsession with Iraq while remaining on the sidelines over Israel.
Both countries are in breach of UN resolutions, the Arabs say, but only one is being brought to task.
Unseating the Iraq leader is an article of faith for this administration. The reasons are a mixture of conviction, concern, power and a belief in the military option and, possibly for Mr Cheney, a desire to pick up where he left off in the Gulf War.
What I suspect he has learnt on this trip is that the road to Baghdad leads through Jerusalem.
Mr Cheney has now promised to meet Mr Arafat on condition the Palestinian leader reins in his militants.
He will be the highest-ranking member of the Bush administration to do so.
The vice-president has now personally committed himself at least to delivering a ceasefire and General Zinni is committed to staying in the region until that has happened.
Enter Mr Cheney. Given the desperation on both sides, it's just possible that he may succeed in effecting real change. We have just seen the end of America's hands off approach to Middle East peace.
It may be a tactical rather than strategic shift, but as Bill Clinton discovered, once you are a part of the negotiating process, it is hard to disentangle yourself.
Historians may yet judge this tour of the Middle East to be a triumph, but not for the reasons he expected.
Just before we got on the plane to go home, the vice-president invited us for a briefing. Ten days and 12 countries later, he offered to pose with us for a group photo.
He said he had enjoyed having us along. "Maybe you'll take us next time," someone said. "maybe," he growled and then smiled.
Perhaps it was the Stockholm Syndrome working but after 12 days in approximate proximity to him, I began to warm to him.
Follow Tom Carver's reports on the vice-president's tour:
Click here for Day Seven - Jerusalem
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney puts Qatar base on map
16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney welcomed in opulent Gulf
16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney visits US aircraft carrier
14 Mar 02 | Middle East
Chasing rumours with Cheney
13 Mar 02 | Middle East
On the road with Dick Cheney
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Profile: Dick Cheney
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