ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Vice President Dick Cheney sought greater support for U.S. Iraq policy from this moderate Arab Gulf state on Saturday in a visit also aimed at countering growing Iranian influence in the region.
Cheney met with Emirates President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other top UAE officials for lunch in a huge and glittering dining room in Abu Dhabi's Musharif Palace. That meeting came ahead of a delicate fence-mending visit to Saudi Arabia.
Cheney's meeting with they UAE leaders came on the eve of a visit to Abu Dhabi by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is trying to persuade the Emirates and other Gulf states to drop their military alliances with Washington.
The U.S. wants the UAE, on the other side of the Persian Gulf from Iran, to agree to shut down Iranian companies in this country believed to be backing Iran's nuclear activities.
The vice president was to meet later Saturday in the northern Saudi city of Tubuk with King Abdullah in a bid to overcome rising Saudi skepticism over the U.S. military strategy to secure Baghdad and the leadership capabilities of Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki.
Although considered a key American ally in the Arab world, Abdullah has increasingly sent signals that he doubts the effectiveness of President Bush's troop buildup strategy. The king has also signaled that he views al-Maliki as a weak leader with too many ties to pro-Iranian Shiite parties to be effective in reaching out to Iraqi's Sunni minority.
Cheney is touring Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states in an attempt to win wider support for ethnic reconciliation in Iraq and to counter efforts by Iran to spead its influence in the region.
Cheney's mission to Saudi Arabia includes an effort to smooth over recent divisions between the oil-rich kingdom and the United States.
The kingdom has taken an aggressive leadership role in efforts to quiet Mideast troubles. In a possible attempt to gain more credibility in the region, King Abdullah recently has openly challenged the U.S. military presence in Iraq, calling U.S. troops in Iraq an "illegal foreign occupation."
The king also refused to see al-Maliki as the Iraqi prime minister was making a tour of Arab countries late last month.
Cheney went to Saudi Arabia last November for meetings with the king that are still shrouded in secrecy.
After dinner with the king, Cheney was to travel next to Jordan. He will also visit Egypt on a weeklong trip that has already taken him to Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.