Cheney To Cut Mideast East Tour Short

Vice President Dick Cheney decided Tuesday to cut short a tour of the Middle East to return to the United States to take part in critical session-ending business in the Senate, an aide said.

"The vice president is returning to Washington to be on hand in the Senate to fulfill his constitutional duties as president of the Senate and cast tie-breaking votes, if necessary," spokesman Steve Schmidt told reporters accompanying Cheney on his overseas trip.

Presiding over the Senate is among Cheney's constitutional duties, although vice presidents historically have not routinely attended such sessions.

The announcement was made as the vice president's plane was en route to Oman after Cheney visited the earthquake zone in Pakistan and stressed the notion that helping Muslims in times of tragedy is one of the best ways for the United States to improve its image overseas.

"It's been an amazing experience to see the extent of the devastation," Cheney said during a visit to a field hospital being run by the U.S. military near the quake's epicenter in the mountainous area 65 miles northwest of the capital Islamabad.

Senators back in Washington had indicated earlier that Cheney was cutting the trip short to rush back to the Senate in case he was needed to break a tie on a deficit-reduction bill.

Cheney's change in plans meant that he would have to forego visits to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt on this trip.