ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Defense Secretary Dick Cheney made a bid Wednesday to secure a Mideast headquarters for the U.S. Central Command in this lush seaside city and won promises from Qatar, Oman and Bahrain to negotiate stepped-up military cooperation with the United States.
Cheney's appeal to the United Arab Emirates won a warm reception, although one U.S. official said that the leaders of the tiny emirates "want to think about it some more" before welcoming hundreds of U.S. military planners on a permanent basis.
Cheney visited the United Arab Emirates on the third day of a four-day swing through the region to set up security partnerships after the Gulf War.
His meetings come at what one official called "a delicate period" in U.S. relations with the Gulf countries. Many of the states, long wary of linking themselves publicly to U.S. security arrangements, are still pondering how boldly they will do so now.
Cheney also visited the island sheikdom of Bahrain, the main port for Navy ships plying the Gulf and another potential home for the U.S. Central Command headquarters.
But knowledgeable sources said that Abu Dhabi, the lively and liberal capital of the Emirates, is considered a more likely spot for the headquarters. One of its principal attractions, aside from the Emirates' strategic location, is Abu Dhabi's greater tolerance for Western social customs. The drinking of alcohol is permitted, for instance, and women enjoy a larger measure of freedom than elsewhere in the Gulf.
But other factors have made Abu Dhabi a highly desirable site for the Central Command, officials said.
"We're trying to spread these things around throughout the region," said one U.S. official of the security arrangements. "That's for both political and practical reasons."
Cheney on Wednesday garnered an agreement to pursue new sites in Qatar, which could warehouse U.S. military equipment. In Bahrain, he won support for what he called a "more robust" U.S. naval presence planned for the Persian Gulf.
In Oman, Cheney consulted with the nation's ruler, Sultan Kaboos ibn Said, one of Washington's most established Mideast partners in military relations, to discuss further Omani assistance to the U.S. military.
Cheney's bid to win a Central Command headquarters in the region comes just 10 months after the Emirates broke with tradition and openly admitted to holding a joint military exercise with American forces.