BAGHDAD - Vice President Dick Cheney and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged problems in the pace of reducing violence in Iraq on Wednesday, but both pledged their governments would continue working together toward a solution.
"The meeting with the vice president paved a foundation for practical steps to support our efforts working on both the security front as well as the domestic political issues," said al-Maliki as he and Cheney made brief statements to reporters.
Al-Maliki is coming under increasing pressure from Washington to demonstrate progress in easing sectarian violence, and Cheney's unannounced visit to Iraq was depicted by U.S. officials as an attempt to press al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders to do more to achieve reconciliation among factions.
"We talked about a way ahead in terms of our mutual interests," Cheney said.
Earlier, Cheney got a firsthand briefing on conditions in Iraq and the effectiveness of the U.S. military buildup from the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
"There's a lot going on. This is a very important time. There's a lot to talk about," Cheney said as he met with Gen. David Petraeus and the new U.S. ambassador here, Ryan Crocker.
Petraeus said recently that conditions in Iraq may get harder before they get easier and will require "an enormous commitment" over time by the United States.
Cheney made Iraq the first stop on a weeklong tour of the Middle East that will also include stops in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. The Baghdad stop had not been announced publicly.
Cheney also met with Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, Sunni and Shiite vice presidents, and other government and political leaders.
Aides said the vice president wanted to emphasize that ending the conflict in Iraq cannot done by military means alone and that his mission was to get a sense of the situation on the ground in Iraq and to deliver a message that more work is needed on the political front to overcome divisions and delays.
The visit follows a secure video conference earlier this week between al-Maliki and President Bush about the need to move forward on legislation to help repair the rift between majority-party Shiite Arabs and minority Sunni Arabs.
Sunni legislators have been threatening to pull out of the government.
Cheney also was likely to renew a U.S. request that the Iraqi parliament not take a scheduled two-month break during these troubling times, according to Crocker.
"For the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in the middle of summer is impossible to understand," said Crocker, who traveled with Cheney from Washington. He has only been on the job since March.
Cheney's message with Iraqi leaders, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters, was to be: "We've all got challenges together. We've got to pull together. We've got to get this work done. It's game time."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity since he talked before Cheney's meetings and did not want to upstage the vice president.
U.S. criticism of summer break plans of the 275-seat Iraqi house drew a retort Wednesday from the maverick speaker of Iraq's parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. "You had better try and control Nancy Pelosi rather than Mahmoud al-Mashhadani," he said in a live address on Iraq's state television, referring to the Democratic speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
His remarks were a clear barb at the Bush administration, though he did not mention any administration official by name.
Cheney had lunch with al-Maliki and Iraqi officials and they were then to have dinner.
Cheney's public schedule called for him to stop first at the United Arab Emirates, but he came first to Iraq instead. He was later to visit the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.
It is his second visit to Iraq as vice president. The first was in December 2005.