U.S. News (3/11/02)
Day 1 of the vice president's Mideast trip
By Kevin Whitelaw
LONDONNobody can say that we weren't warned, but Vice President Dick Cheney's whirlwind trip is starting out as The No News Tour 2002. At a brief press conference at 10 Downing Street, Cheney and British Prime Minister Tony Blair sidestepped the one issue that really matters: possible war with Iraq. "No decisions have been made yet on how to proceed," Blair said.
Even privately, the vice president's aides are doing their best to lower expectations. "I'm trying not to make news here," one administration official told accompanying journalists during an informal briefing this afternoon. So far, they're succeeding. We did learn that Cheney and Blair shared an amiable lunch over soup, fish, and fresh vegetables. And, unsurprisingly, that the U.S.-British relationship remains, as always, very strong. The six-month anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was hanging over the visit and the public remarks have been very focused on the continuing war on terror. Still, we know their 40-minute private meeting had to be much more interesting than anyone is letting on.
Even though Cheney is hitting 12 countries in 11 days, the pace so far is almost relaxed. Usually, presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries of state fly overnight to Europe and sleep on the plane (in Cheney's case, it's the President's roomy 747, dubbed Air Force Two when the veep is aboard). But this time, we flew during the day on Sunday, giving Cheney two nights in London to adjust to the time difference. Nobody is saying that the slower pace is related to Cheney's health concerns, but then again, nobody is complaining about having time to actually leave the hotel and sample some of London's fine restaurants.