New York Sun
Cheney Would Meet With Chalabi, Though He's Not Choosing Sides
BY IRA STOLL - Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 4, 2005

Vice President Cheney, in a wide-ranging meeting with the editorial board of
The New York Sun, extended a friendly signal to Iraqi politician Ahmad
Chalabi, whose relations with Washington had appeared frayed.

Mr. Cheney made his comments Friday during a meeting with the editors at the
Plaza Hotel. During the 45-minute session, he also expressed optimism about
winning Democrats over to support the administration's plans for personal
accounts as part of Social Security.

The vice president was careful to say that the American government does not
want to pick the leaders of Iraq, a job he said should be left to the
Iraqis. But in response to a question from the Sun about whether senior
American diplomats in Baghdad should meet with Mr. Chalabi as they do with
other Iraqi politicians, the vice president said, "I know Mr. Chalabi
myself. I've met with him. I wouldn't have any problems meeting with him
today. If there's any prohibition against meeting with him, I'm unaware of

Mr. Cheney's remarks may counter any impression in Baghdad that Mr. Chalabi
is somehow persona non grata with the Bush administration. Mr. Chalabi has
been accused, often anonymously and with little substantiation, of
committing bank fraud in Jordan, faking pre-war intelligence, and leaking
American secrets to Iran. Mr. Chalabi has filed suit in federal court in
Washington against the kingdom of Jordan, accusing it of improperly acting
against his Jordanian bank and of smearing his reputation with the Bush
administration. He has also offered to defend himself at a congressional

Mr. Cheney said, "We've also worked hard to make clear to everybody over
there that we are not in the business of trying to pick winners in the
elections in Iraq. ... We have been very careful not to get into the
business of voicing support for any one particular individual. The Iraqis'll
get it sorted out."

For Mr. Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, the remarks by the vice
president come at an important moment. More than two months after the Iraqis
voted in an election, the politicians elected to the National Assembly are
still bargaining over who will emerge in top government jobs. On Thursday of
last week, a commission appointed by President Bush cleared the Iraqi
National Congress of any connection to a source called "curveball" who was
accused of fabricating pre-war intelligence, though the commission's report
did fault one other unnamed source it said was "associated with the Iraqi
National Congress."

On Social Security, Mr. Cheney said the president's ideas to make the
retirement program more solvent may yet garner support from Democrats in
Congress. "I think there's more willingness on the Democratic side to talk
about this than has yet surfaced," he said. "I've talked privately with
members who at this point don't want to be quoted. They're not about to step
up and say anything, because the heat is on, on the other side, not to break
ranks. But I think that it will be far more difficult for them to say,
'We're not going to participate in the debate, we're not willing to talk to

Mr. Cheney rattled off a list of proposals for fixing Social Security. He
mentioned Senator Hagel's plan, which would raise the retirement age, and
Senator Lindsey Graham's plan, which would raise the ceiling on the amount
of salary that is subject to payroll tax. He mentioned a plan by Rep. Paul
Ryan and Senator Sununu that would create private accounts averaging 6.4
percentage points of the current 12.4% payroll tax - accounts significantly
larger than the 4 percentage-point maximum accounts that Mr. Bush spoke of
in his State of the Union address. He also mentioned a plan put forth by a
mutual fund executive, Robert Pozen, a Democrat, that would index Social
Security benefits to prices instead of wages for higher-income workers.

"All of these plans ultimately need to be on the table to be discussed," he
said. "We have not embraced any specific one of them."

The vice president said he thought the administration had been "very
successful" so far in getting people to understand that Social Security has
a solvency problem. But he said, "we've really just joined the debate" in
terms of personal accounts as a solution.

"For us to be effective, obviously, we're going to have to do battle with
AARP," Mr. Cheney said. "They're out there peddling the notion that somehow
what the president wants to do is quote destroy Social Security."

He said that AARP's youngest members are 50, and that the Bush
administration is saying that no one 55 or over would be affected by changes
in Social Security. "There's a very narrow slice of AARP membership that's
going to be affected by this," he said. "It's about their kids and

Asked about the prospects for the Republican Party in New York City, Mr.
Cheney said that he had been pleased by the 2004 Republican National
Convention that was held here. "We've had successful Republicans in New York
like Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki," he said.

Mr. Cheney was guarded and at times combative during the editorial board
meeting, rejecting one query with "nice try," another with "I guess I didn't
understand the logic of your question."

Mr. Cheney has said he wants to go fly-fishing when his second term as vice
president is over, rejecting the idea of running for president himself. But
he smiled a broad grin at the end of the session when the vice president and
managing editor of the Sun suggested that Governor Jeb Bush of Florida might
make a strong vice presidential candidate in 2008, and presented Mr. Cheney
with a baseball cap that read "Cheney-Bush 2008," with Bush in much
smaller-sized type than Cheney. "I'm not going to wear it," the vice
president vowed, then said, "I appreciate it. I might wear it into the Oval


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