AMMAN (Reuters) - Pro-U.S. ally Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday urged U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to support a greater political role for Iraq’s Sunnis to restore stability and curb Iran’s growing influence, officials said.
They said Cheney was told by the monarch during a meeting in the Red Sea port of Aqaba that Washington should pursue more vigorously the benchmarks on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government on national reconciliation, that include dismantling Shi’ite militias and giving Sunnis a greater say.
“His Majesty stressed that the only way to end the infighting is reconciliation between all components of the Iraqi people and participation of all groups in the political process,” the monarch was quoted by a palace official as telling Cheney.
Jordan and its Arab allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia have become increasingly exasperated with Washington’s policies in Iraq after the U.S. led invasion in 2003 which they say has inadvertently increase Shi’ite Iran’s influence in the country.
“The increase in violence lately is disrupting efforts to restore stability and increases tensions in the region,” the monarch was quoted as telling Cheney.
Cheney is known as one of the staunchest proponents in the Bush administration of a long-standing policy of shunning countries like Iran and Syria that it considers rogue states.
Washington accuses Tehran, with whom it has not had diplomatic ties for more than a quarter of a century, of supplying and training Shi’ite militias in Iraq.
Iran denies backing the insurgency in Iraq and accuses Washington of igniting tensions between Iraq’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.
Officials said Cheney was told by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt that Washington had to put more pressure on the Maliki government, which is seen as dominated by Iranian backed Shi’ite religious parties, to increase Sunni representation in Iraq’s security forces.
They told the top U.S. official it was difficult to back Washington’s goals of containing Iran’s nuclear threat as long as “a flawed Iraq” strategy fails to redress the political imbalance tilted in favour of Iran’s fellow Shi’ites in Iraq.
“The dogged obsession on reining in the insurgency has only helped to give Shi’ite parties aligned to Iran greater power which they abused to further marginalise Sunnis from government,” one official who requested anonymity told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt privately share Jordanian doubts that Maliki’s government could overcome sectarian divisions and unite the country, Jordanian officials say.
Washington, despite its frustration with Maliki, was concerned that any change in government could only fuel further anti-American violence by the entry of Shi’ite militias that have so far been kept at bay, Western diplomats say.
Cheney also heard Arab concern that absence of a political deal with Sunnis would doom to failure the U.S. military surge in Iraq, seen as a last ditch effort to avert all out civil war.
Arab moderates warned Cheney failure in Iraq would not only damage broader U.S. interests in the region but destabilise its allies and stoke radicalism, another Jordanian official said.
“We are very worried about the disastrous consequences of the failure of the U.S. in Iraq and its impact on the rise of Iran’s power. It will be a double blow to America’s allies and its vital strategic interests in the region,” said the official.