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Cheney: "Direct threats require decisive action'

Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday launched the White House's broadest overture to foreign critics of the Iraq war and called for global cooperation against terrorism and repression.

Speaking at an annual meeting of elite corporate and government officials that last year was rife with anti-American sentiment, Cheney acknowledged no mistakes in the administration's handling of Iraq and insisted "direct threats require decisive action."

But trying to reassure traditional allies, he said it would take "many hands" from Europe and elsewhere to stymie a new generation of terrorists by promoting democracy in the Middle East.

"We must meet the dangers together," Cheney told an audience of about 1,000 at the World Economic Forum. "Cooperation among our governments, and effective international institutions, are even more important today than they have been in the past."

Later, a senior U.S. official said the administration envisioned what Cheney considers a significant role for the United Nations in Iraq in coming months.

Cheney's speech reflected the continuing struggle within the administration over how to get past the bitterness and mistrust that remain among allies over President Bush's handling of the Iraq war and its aftermath, without backing away from the president's insistence that he will confront gathering dangers, alone if necessary.

The White House has moved on several fronts in the past few weeks to try to repair its international relations, partly because of the impending presidential campaign and partly because Bush realizes he needs help in dealing with Iraq, North Korea and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After a furious overseas reaction to the administration's announcement in December that prime contracts for rebuilding Iraq would be available only to companies from nations that supported the invasion, Bush lifted those restrictions against Canada. A Bush aide in Washington said Saturday that the president is leaning toward making the next round of contracts available to French, German and Russian companies.

L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, went to the United Nations last week to try to get help in rescuing the administration's plan for Iraq. Cheney told the Davos audience, "We urge all democratic nations and the United Nations to answer the Iraqi Governing Council's call for support for the people of Iraq in making the transition to democracy."

Administration officials said the atmosphere in Davos was much warmer than it was last year, when the United States was on the brink of invading Iraq and Secretary of State Colin Powell was met with a barrage of complaints. But the reaction to Cheney's 58-minute appearance was tepid. The audience withheld applause during the speech and then clapped for hostile questions about the U.S. government's handling of Arab visitors and its treatment of military detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Cheney, who is spending five days in Switzerland and Italy on his second foreign trip in three years, called it a "great responsibility" to "keep our alliances and international partnerships strong, and cooperate on every front as we meet common dangers."

"There will be occasional differences, even among allies who have great respect for one another," he said. "We do not shrink from these obligations, because we know from bitter experience that tragedy can come from division, weakness and vacillation."