MUSCAT, Oman – Vice President Dick Cheney stopped in Yemen Thursday for a two hour meeting with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to discuss the American military training for Yemeni troops.
A U.S. military team of nearly two dozen personnel is already in Yemen, reportedly to be joined soon by three more teams of similar size. Each team is expected to spend about a month training some 2,000 Yemeni fighters to strike down any burgeoning terror cells that may evolve.
The vice president, who entered and left the nation aboard a C-17 military transport plane, described Yemen as a "good friend" and an "important" Mideast ally in the war on terror, despite the fact that it was in Yemen two years ago that terrorists linked to Al Qaeda bombed the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors, as the ship docked to refuel in Aden.
"We have increasingly developed close relations between ourselves and Yemen," Cheney said after his meeting with Saleh.
Saleh said he and Cheney discussed bilateral and international cooperation against terrorism Thursday and agreed "that the fight against terrorism is paramount and should continue."
Saleh said no organized Al Qaeda camps remain in his country, just pockets of lethal resistance.
Cheney stopped in Yemen after Saleh telephoned President Bush to request the visit. A Yemeni government official said that Saleh is glad to have the aid from the United States, but Yemen doesn't want U.S. soldiers doing the actual fighting against any terrorists that may try to enter the country from its long, unguarded border with Saudi Arabia or along the 1,500-mile coastline.
"It is a Yemeni war against terrorism, but they want to do it themselves," he said of government officials. "They don't want the Americans to do the fighting."
Cheney is the first vice president to visit Yemen since George Bush in 1987. It was a quick stop on his way to Salalah, Oman, the fourth of nine Arab states Cheney will visit during his 11-nation Middle East tour.
As he tours the region, Cheney also is pledging a stronger U.S. effort to try to end Israeli-Palestinian violence, although he said the two battling sides must do more to end the bloodshed.
The widening violence between Israelis and Palestinians was the utmost concern of the Yemeni president, aides said. Speaking in Arabic, Saleh told reporters his country wants "an intensive effort to end violence and press Israel to comply with international resolutions to end its aggression against the Palestinians."
Cheney said he hopes to get the derailed peace process back on track, a subject that is coming up more insistently at each of his stops as he tours the Middle East.
To that end, Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni arrived in Israel Thursday while Israel withdrew from the West Bank city of Ramallah, which it had recently taken over in the latest battles with Palestinian militants.
At stops in Jordan and Egypt, Cheney heard criticism from leaders of potential U.S. plans to widen the war against terror into Iraq.
A Yemeni government official told reporters Thursday that Saleh opposes military action against Iraq, and said, "They don't want more oil on the fire" in the volatile Middle East, a sentiment to which Cheney offered no response.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.