tampabay.com

Cheney: Sea lanes to stay open

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 12, 2007


ABOARD USS JOHN C. STENNIS - From an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran on Friday that the U.S. and its allies will keep it from restricting sea traffic as well as from developing nuclear weapons.

"We'll keep the sea lanes open, " Cheney said from the hangar deck of the USS John C. Stennis, about 150 miles from Iran.

Cheney is touring the Middle East asking Arab allies to do more to help Iraq and to curb Iran's growing power in the region. With Iraq in turmoil, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are maneuvering to see who can help fill the leadership vacuum.

The vice president made clear the United States' intentions on the rivalry. "We'll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region, " he said.

Today, Cheney makes a fence-mending visit to Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich kingdom, long a key American ally in the region, recently has been shunning the U.S.-backed government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, suggesting he is too close to Iran.

Roughly a quarter of the world's oil supplies pass through the narrow Straits of Hormuz connecting the Persian Gulf with the open waters of the Arabian Sea. Iran controls the eastern side of the straits.

With two U.S. carrier groups now in the region, the vice president declared, "We're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. We'll keep the sea lanes open."

Cheney's visit comes just two days before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit Abu Dhabi.

Ahmadinejad wants the Emirates and other gulf Arab countries to drop military alliances with Washington and join Iran in regional efforts. About 40, 000 U.S. troops are on land bases in gulf countries outside Iraq and about 20, 000 sailors and Marines are in the region.

No gulf state has yet backed Iran's offer of an alliance.