Cheney to Meet With Saudi King Ahead of Iraq Summit
The U.S. Has Pressed the Nation to Help With Reconstruction and to Reach Out to Sunnis

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 23, 2006; A32

Vice President Cheney will fly to Saudi Arabia tomorrow and hold talks with King Abdullah on Saturday amid a flurry of diplomatic activity over Iraq that reflects the wider scramble to shape the war-torn country's future at a critical juncture.

The White House said Cheney will discuss regional issues but provided no details about the hastily organized mission to Riyadh. The trip, however, comes on the eve of a summit between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan next week. It will also overlap with a weekend meeting in Tehran between the presidents of Iran and Iraq to which the president of Syria has been invited.

The United States has long been pressing the Saudis to use their tribal connections with Iraq's Sunni minority to get them to join reconciliation efforts, a key to weakening Iraq's escalating insurgency. Washington has few means of persuading the Sunnis to more fully support and engage in Iraq's fledgling government except through pressure from neighboring Sunni regimes with family or religious ties.

The White House also wants the oil-rich kingdom to do more to help with reconstruction. The Saudis pledged more than $1 billion to rebuild Iraq, but payment has been long delayed.

Generally, Iraq has received only a small fraction of pledged reconstruction aid.

As vice president, Cheney has been to Saudi Arabia at least three times. The last visit was in January, when he met with the monarch at the king's ranch outside Riyadh to discuss Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Syria and Lebanon. All of those issues are even more pressing now.

The U.S. diplomatic outreach also comes as the Bush administration is reviewing its Iraq strategy. U.S. officials have talked openly for months about wanting to get neighboring nations to do more to help stabilize Iraq.