WASHINGTON – Face-to-face meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and probably other senior Bush administration officials await Ahmed Chalabi (search) as the Iraqi deputy prime minister pursues political rehabilitation in Washington.
While some Senate Democrats want to probe the role of the Iraqi National Congress (search), an exile group headed by Chalabi, in drumming up support for the war that deposed Saddam Hussein, he is about to receive high-profile attention from the Bush administration.
Chalabi, who begins his eight-day visit on Tuesday, is due to see Rice on Wednesday and make a speech that day at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that provides personnel and considerable support to the administration.
He expects to see other senior U.S. officials as well, but he has not yet nailed down a meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney (search), another goal as Chalabi maneuvers to become Iraq's next prime minister after elections in December.
Chalabi is linked with ultimately unfounded claims by President Bush and his top aides that Saddam had amassed hidden arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The claim helped the president gain support from Congress and much of the American public for the war in 2003.
A former banker and MIT graduate, Chalabi has been a controversial figure on several fronts, accused sometimes of being an Iranian agent.
Patrick Clawson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, dismissed the allegation.
"He is not an agent, but he wants to work with Iran to the extent it is compatible with Iraq's best interest," Clawson said in an interview.
"Mr. Chalabi is convinced that good relations with Iran are in Iraq's best interest, and that the United States would benefit," said Clawson, author of a new book titled "Eternal Iran."
"I think he is mistaken in his optimism," Clawson said.
The Bush administration often appeared to be of two minds about Chalabi. Pentagon officials seemed to hold him in higher esteem than officials at the State Department.
Still, Rice, whose schedule is packed with travel abroad, found time on her schedule for a meeting the day before she departs on a 10-day trip to the Middle East and Asia.