Monday, February 26, 2007

Cheney Enjoys Warm Welcome In Australia

Vice President Dick Cheney, in a series of statements during a visit to Asia, defended the Iraq war, attacked administration critics at home and warned that the U.S. would confront potential adversaries abroad. His visit was meant to thank Australia and Japan for their support in Iraq. But answering growing criticism in the U.S. and Australia, he defended the Iraq war as a "remarkable achievement" in one speech, and dismissed suggestions his influence in Washington is waning. At a news conference Cheney warned that "all options" are on the table if Iran continues to defy U.N.-led efforts to end Tehran's nuclear ambitions, leaving the door open to military action. Cheney enjoyed a generally warm welcome, including lunch at Australian Prime Minister John Howard's harborside mansion and a cruise past the Sydney Opera House. On Saturday, he held talks with Howard — who defended his friendly relations with the White House. Cheney left Australia this morning. In Japan, Cheney asserted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq would "validate the al-Qaida strategy."Pelosi complained to the White House that Cheney was impugning the patriotism of critics of the war. Cheney refused to back down: "I said it and I meant it," he told reporters. "I didn't question her patriotism; I questioned her judgment." He took a similarly uncompromising stand on Iran, criticizing its defiance of a U.N. deadline for freezing its uranium-enrichment programs. While the White House seeks a peaceful resolution to the problem, he said, he did not rule out military action. Cheney was more diplomatic, but no less direct, on Friday when he discussed North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and China's rapid modernization of its 2.3 million-strong military forces. Noting that China — an emerging economic power — had hit a defunct weather satellite with a missile last month, Cheney said some of the country's actions were at odds with its pledge to develop peacefully. In the same speech, though, he praised China for its help in persuading North Korea to seal its main nuclear reactor in exchange for oil. But Cheney added that North Korea had "much to prove," namely that it would honor the deal.