Cheney, his dirty mouth and progress in Iraq

The vice president shirks tradition and decides to go on the record with reporters on Air Force Two.

Published May 15, 2007 2:54PM (EDT)

The last time we did one of these, I tried to do it on background and I took a lot of crap for it, frankly. (Laughter.) So we'll do this one on the record. That will necessarily involve some limitations in terms of what I can say, and I apologize in advance for the fact that I won't talk about my conversations with the folks I visited with. That's why they talk to me.

So, but I'd be happy to respond to a question or two. Let me just make a couple of opening comments. Obviously, one of the good things about the trip is having a chance to spend a couple of days in Iraq. I got to spend a lot of time with our commanders, with [Gen. David] Petraeus, [Lt. Gen. Raymond] Odierno, [Maj. Gen. Martin] Dempsey and some time with the troops, and then, of course, to spend a day with all the senior Iraqi leadership and saw all the major players, both collectively together, but also had separate, one-on-one conversations with most of them.

The things I was interested in Iraq obviously were how things were going from the security standpoint, how the surge was operating. I talked with the troops, had breakfast one morning with a bunch of our enlisted personnel without any generals present. That's something I used to do when I was [Defense] Secretary. I find those sessions very helpful in terms of hearing from them what it looks like from their perspective.

I thought they were amazingly positive, certainly believed in what they were doing. And when I talked with the Commander of the 25th Division, General [Benjamin] Mixon, he said they had -- how did he put it? In six months, they had achieved a reenlistment level that in the past had taken a full year to accomplish.

Obviously the extension of 15 months places a burden on the troops and their families, although there appeared to be pretty widespread understanding why that was necessary and I didn't receive a lot of complaints about it.

The sessions with the Iraqis focused very much on the agenda they have before them, things they've got to get done with respect to reconciliation, enactment of an oil law, de-Baathification, whatever constitutional modifications they're going to undertake. And there seemed to be something of a consensus on the agenda. There's not agreement on all the issues obviously, but there wasn't a lot of dispute with respect to the issues that needed to be addressed.

I thought especially noteworthy was the fact that [Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki had begun meeting with Tariq Hashemi, the Sunni, the Sunni leader who is part of the government.

Part of the message obviously was that they need to be actively and aggressively getting after solutions to these problems, that there's not a lot of time to be wasted here, that it was important to move aggressively on the business of the day.

I can't predict what precisely will happen. I was -- I felt there was a greater sense of urgency on their part than I had seen previously.

From Iraq, obviously we went on to the UAE, to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. At all those stops, I spent time with people I've known for a long time -- the heads of all those governments, some of their senior advisors -- and discussed a wide range of topics, including Iraq, Iran, the peace process, the general situation in the Middle East.

End of Comment (Laughter.)

Question: Mr. Vice President, do you feel like you did get support from these Arab countries you visited and a commitment from them to do more to help out in stabilizing Iraq?

The vice president: I did.

Question: (Inaudible.)

The vice president: I did.

Question: Do you feel that -- the security situation obviously on the ground in Iraq, you've said is sort of the precursor to the diplomatic process and all the other things falling into place. Do you feel the security situation is stabilizing itself enough in order to facilitate that? Have there been improvements recently?

The vice president: Well, one thing I would point to that they all referenced to me -- the Iraqis as well as the Americans -- was the progress they feel is being made in Anbar province and a sense that the locals in Anbar province have gotten tired of al Qaeda and have been willing to begin to oppose al Qaeda's activities in that part of Iraq.

Question: And Baghdad?

The vice president: Baghdad, the general view was that there's been a decline in the sectarian violence, the kind of death squad activity we saw earlier, but still a high level of suicide truck bombings, car bombings. That kind of thing continues.

Question: What would you expect to come out of the U.S.-Iran talks that will be happening in the next few weeks?

The vice president: I don't want to predict. I would emphasize what the President said, that those talks are focused on the situation in Iraq. They won't deal with the other issues that are out there.

Question: You said you discussed the Middle East peace process. Is that something that you raised or that your interlocutors raised?

The vice president: I can't go beyond what I've said. I don't want to get into the details of my conversations.

Question: Its come across with a sense that you had an agenda but there are other folks that had alternative agendas.

The vice president: I don't know why it would come across that way. If anybody's talking to you about it, they weren't in the meetings.

Question: What should an oil law have? How -- what level of detail do you need to see in it? (Inaudible.)

The vice president: They've got to sort it out for themselves.

Question: [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak's spokesman yesterday seemed to indicate that there wouldn't be any progress on issues that the United States is interested in, like Iraq and Iran, until there's progress on the Middle East peace process. Do you agree with that assessment?

The vice president: I think these are all important issues and we need to work on all of them.

Question: Will Arab leaders move forward separately or is it always a situation where it's everything or nothing?

The vice president: I do not think it's everything or nothing. I do believe there are a number of issues that need to be worked on simultaneously. You don't get to pick and choose.

Question: Have you been briefed on the hunt for the soldiers in Baghdad?

The vice president: No, I haven't had any detailed -- I've seen the Situation Room reports which I get on a continuous basis during the day, but I haven't had any briefings.

Question: Is it possible to both have a hard line on Iran, as you did on the aircraft carrier, and talk with them about Iraq? But are you still both going in different directions?

The vice president: They're separate issues. The President made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors -- focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran's interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.

A separate proposition is the fact that the international community, including the United States, is deeply concerned about Iran's pursuit of enrichment technology for building nuclear weapons and that the Iranians are, in fact, in violation now of two unanimously approved UN Security Council resolutions calling for them to stop what they're doing.

Question: The Iranians chose to break the news of the coming ambassadorial talks yesterday while you were in the region obviously. Do you think that that was deliberate? Were they trying to play some game there?

The vice president: I don't have any idea. And I'm going to shut it down at that point. All right?

Question: Where are you going next, sir?

The vice president: Washington, D.C. (Laughter.) I hope to get home over Memorial Day to fish a little.

Question: Have you spoken with Bush during this trip?

The vice president: I've communicated, I talked with [Stephen] Hadley. I have not talked directly with him. I'll see him tomorrow. We kind of talk back and forth between the staffs.

Question: Do you enjoy doing this kind of thing, this diplomacy, this flying around?

The vice president: I enjoy coming back out here. As I say, I know all of these people. We always reminisce a bit as well as work.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------