By TOM RAUM
CAIRO (AP) - The prospect of direct U.S.-Iranian talks on
important shift in relations between the two adversaries.
The development comes during Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to the
region, where he is trying to convince moderate Arab states that the
will stand firm against
support for the delicate Iraqi government.
Cheney is only one part of a
State Condoleezza Rice, seems to be playing on the other side of the street.
The vice president has emphasized a hard line on
stops in moderate Arab nations and talks to
aircraft carrier in the
He has urged Arab countries to do more to help stabilize the Iraqi
government and hinted that
dominating the region.
Rice is leading a countervailing effort to reach out to
doubts whether there is anyone willing to reach back.
The two tracks crossed on Sunday.
Cheney's spokeswoman said after the vice president's meeting in
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that the
if the discussions just deal with
It is the first time
McBride noted that the idea of such talks had been floated before, in what
the State Department is calling the "
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe later said the
"The president authorized this channel because we must take every step
possible to stabilize
military continue to act against hostile Iranian-backed activity in
Johndroe said while traveling with President Bush in
At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said, "This is the same
channel that has been open to both sides for some time. ... But it hasn't
been used before in its most formal sense."
Little by little, the administration seems to be bowing to political
pressure and accepting a recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group
to do more diplomatically to engage
"I was heartened to see that the
evidently, going to sit down and talk. I've been calling for engagement with
Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
some common denominators here," Hagel said on "Face the Nation" on CBS.
Rice is seeking to build on a recent regional conference on
attended with diplomats from
a consensus to stabilize
Rice and others had hoped.
The secretary promised the Iraqis the
level. The upcoming
"One needs to be very careful about confusing dialogue with progress," said
Anthony H. Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in
He said huge differences remain - on nuclear weapons and long-range
is no meaningful prospect for a 'grand bargain,' in spite of some
well-meaning voices," Cordesman said.
Some Arab states are concerned about predominantly Shiite Iran's recent
efforts to extend its influence, not only in Shiite-majority
other neighbors with large Shiite populations.
In his travels, Cheney sought to reassure states such as
is predominantly Sunni, and the moderate
would serve as a counterbalance to ambitious
He pledged that "we'll keep the sea lanes open" and said the
with allies to keep
region." Cheney has emphasized links between
bombs used to kill
Yet while Cheney was warmly received by Emirates leaders Saturday,
hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in
Aaron David Miller, a former State Department adviser on Mideast issues to
both Republican and Democratic administrations, said the diplomatic dance
"The Saudis understand that if we end up with a crisis with
because the Israelis or the Americans use military force, that they're going
to be extremely vulnerable to Iranian retaliation - particularly if the
Israelis use Iraqi, Saudi or Jordanian air space, which they would have to,"
Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on
International Peace in
given the depth of mutual mistrust and ill will which currently exists."
Interestingly, on Sunday, it was Cheney's staff - not the White House or
State Department - that offered the first official confirmation of the
That appeared to reassure some top Republicans.
"Well, the vice president indicated as long as the discussions are about the
anything wrong with that. I think the Iranians are part of the problem in
mischievous behavior, I think that would be helpful," Kentucky Sen. Mitch
McConnell, the Senate's GOP leader, said on "Late Edition" on CNN.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Tom Raum has covered national and international affairs for
The Associated Press since 1973.
Associated Press writers Anne Gearan, John Heilprin and Matthew Lee in