AFP: US Vice President Dick Cheney and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos on Wednesday were to break bread and hold talks expected to focus on US efforts to contain Iran’s influence and curb its nuclear programme.
MUSCAT (AFP) US Vice President Dick Cheney and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos on Wednesday were to break bread and hold talks expected to focus on US efforts to contain Iran’s influence and curb its nuclear programme.
The low-key meeting and dinner were to begin at 7:30 pm (1630 GMT).
Ahead of those talks, Cheney took a break from the strains of Middle East diplomacy and headed into waters off Oman’s coast for some deep-sea fishing aboard a borrowed 60-foot (18-metre) royal yacht, the “Kingfish I.”
The stop in Oman followed a two-day surprise visit by Cheney to Iraq to kick off a nine-day trip to the Middle East and Turkey to discuss issues that also included the battered Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Afghanistan.
The vice president’s stop in Oman is focused on Iran, which lies across the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the oil-rich Gulf, as well as on the broader US-led “war on terrorism,” a senior aide said in Washington on Friday.
“They sit in kind of the eye of the storm of that part of the world, and are both observers and participants in all the major issues there,” the adviser said in a pre-trip briefing held on condition that he not be named.
Cheney was expected to thank the sultan for his “quiet but robust support” on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the broader US-led war on terrorism launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the aide said.
But he stressed that Iran “has got to be very high” on the agenda for the talks, which come eight months before November US elections and 10 months before the White House changes hands.
“The Omanis, like a lot of other people, are concerned by the escalating tensions between the rest of the world community and Iran, by some of Iran’s activities, particularly in the nuclear field, but outside its borders as well,” the official said.
Oman, an ally of the United States, has consistently maintained good relations with Tehran, and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Muscat last May.
Oman is anxious to avoid an increase in tension in the Gulf over Tehran’s refusal to halt its uranium enrichment programme, resulting in a tense standoff with the West, including three sets of UN sanctions.
Washington insists it seeks a diplomatic solution to the standoff, but Cheney warned in 2005 that Israel might decide to use military force against Iran’s nuclear programme.
US President George W. Bush claims that Iran is racing to develop nuclear weapons, something denied by Tehran, which has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that it has the right to pursue it.
Cheney and the sultan were to make a brief joint appearance to assembled media, but it was unclear whether they would make any remarks in keeping with the remarkably low-key visit.
“It’s a pretty quiet country; you don’t hear a lot about Oman, and they don’t make a lot of waves,” the top US official said on Friday.
On different waves, those in the waters off Muscat, Cheney was fishing for tuna, snapper, kingfish, and hamour, a sort of local grouper, aides said.
The US vice president was joined by wife Lynne and daughter Liz as well as the boat’s captain and crew, they said.
Later, the vice president was to return to his hotel to take part in a White House National Security Council meeting via secure videoconference, said spokeswoman Megan Mitchell.