RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – The Arab world's two major powers urged Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday to give negotiations more time in the growing diplomatic conflict over Iran's nuclear program.
As Cheney wound up a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah at his ranch outside Riyadh late Tuesday, officials close to the talks said the monarch had spoken of "the necessity of giving negotiations a chance" before pressing for Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
Cheney got a similar message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when they met earlier Tuesday in Cairo. Neither spoke to reporters, but Mubarak's spokesman said Cairo would "wait and see whether there will be a consensus" on dealing with Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
"We call for Iran to show more flexibility and cooperation, and we call for a continuation of dialogue with Iran," presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said.
He declared Egypt could not "ignore our long-standing principled position ... which refuses to put all this fuss and focus on the Iranian nuclear program without looking at Israel's nuclear arsenal. We cannot give support to a resolution unless it makes reference to the universality of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and unless it is free of double standards."
Israel neither denies nor confirms it has nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have them.
Washington is lobbying the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors to refer Iran to the Security Council over its recent decision to break U.N. seals on nuclear equipment and resume small-scale enrichment of uranium — a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors as well as material for atomic bombs. Egypt is a member of the IAEA board.
The U.S. drive against Iran has met resistance from Russia and China, which hope for a compromise. They say Iran had not ruled out having its nuclear fuel processed in Russia, which would allow greater oversight. Russia and China are among the five permanent members of the Security Council who have veto power over any resolution.
While many Persian Gulf leaders are concerned over Iran's nuclear program, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in particular fear putting Iran before the Security Council could sharpen the confrontation, and both say the West should do more about Israel's nuclear arsenal.
Awad said Cheney and Mubarak did not discuss Egyptian domestic issues. The vice president had been expected to broach democratic reforms after Egypt's recent parliamentary elections, which were marred by violence and police blockades of polling stations in opposition strongholds.
The talks in Saudi Arabia were joined by intelligence chief Prince Mogrin bin Abdel Aziz, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and the Saudi ambassador to Washington and former intelligence boss, Prince Turki bin al-Faisal.
The king and Cheney also discussed Iraq, ways to keep the Israeli-Palestinian peace process afloat after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke and the standoff with Syria over charges it was involved in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The United States is demanding that Damascus show greater cooperation with a U.N. inquiry into Hariri's killing. Arab leaders worry Washington is using the probe to try to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose security officials have been implicated in the death.
Arab diplomats said ahead of the Cheney-Abdullah meeting that the Saudis were expected to present Cheney with a deal in which Assad would end interference in Lebanon and extend cooperation with the U.N. investigation in exchange for an end to U.S.-led Western pressure on Assad's regime. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
On Iraq, Arab nations want to ensure a strong representation for the Sunni Arab minority in the new government after victories by the country's Shiite majority in Dec. 15 elections. Most of the Arab world outside of Iraq is dominated by Sunnis.
Late Tuesday, Cheney flew to Kuwait to pay his respects to the ruling family after the death Sunday of Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah.