US vice-president Dick Cheney, on an 11-state tour of the Middle East, was warned by King Abdullah of Jordan that a military strike on Iraq could threaten the stability and security of the entire region. The king called for ‘a solution to all outstanding problems with Iraq through dialogue and peaceful means’. His sentiments were echoed by Egyptian President Mubarak who said after meeting Cheney on 13 March that every possible effort should be made to resolve the situation ‘without inflicting more suffering on the Iraqi people’.

Mubarak said that Egypt would press Baghdad to readmit the UN weapons inspectors, whose continued absence is the US’ chief declared complaint against Iraq. ‘My sense is that he [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] is going to accept the inspectors,’ Mubarak said. ‘We are going to meet with some of his special envoys and tell them that this is a must.After that if nothing happens we will find out what can be done.’

Arab leaders are expected to discuss the Iraqi question at their summit conference in Beirut on 27-28 March.

US President Bush reiterated his ‘deep concern’ over Iraq in a Washington press conference on 13 March. He did not rule out the possibility of taking action against Baghdad unilaterally, saying only that the US was in consultation with its allies. Bush has been under pressure from European allies to prove a link between Iraq and international terrorism, before carrying the war against the Al-Qaeda network beyond Afghanistan. ‘One thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction,’ Bush said. ‘This is a nation run by a man. who won’t let inspectors into the country; a man who’s obviously got something to hide. And he is a problem, and we’re going to deal with him.’

Baghdad is continuing with its own diplomatic efforts to shore up Arab support. Izzat Ibrahim, vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, visited Jordan before Cheney arrived, and was scheduled to meet Mubarak in Cairo once the US delegation moved on to Yemen and Oman. Iraqi vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan, describing Cheney as a criminal, told Arab leaders to oppose US threats. Despite the continued stated refusal to readmit the inspectors, Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Naji Sabri is to hold a second round of talks with the UN in April. The first discussions with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which took place in New York on 7 March, were described by Sabri as ‘positive and constructive’.