President Bush sent his top security aide to the Middle East last week on a secret mission to discuss the situation in the Persian Gulf, officials said Saturday.
The two-day trip to the troubled region was made by Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Tuesday night to Thursday night.But White House officials, who asked not to be identified, refused to say who Scowcroft met with or which countries he visited.
Scowcroft, who has a history of behind-the-scenes missions for the president, was accompanied by Richard Haass, a Middle East expert on the National Security Council, the officials said.
Scowcroft, at work at the White House Saturday, declined to return telephone calls.
One administration official said the general, who traveled twice secretly to China in the wake of the Tianamen Square massacre, wanted to keep details of the mission under wraps.
It was not known if Scowcroft made any direct contacts with Iran, a longtime U.S. foe that has emerged as a power in the region with the defeat of Iraq.
The only information made available on the trip was that Scowcroft went "at the request of the president" and to countries in the Middle East "to discuss the situation in the gulf," the officials said.
But the White House aides would not say if Scowcroft was pursuing the diplomatic tracks set in place by both Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, who made his own 10-day trip to the region recently.
Bush, pressing his own round of consultations with key coalition allies in recent weeks, has said that with the end of the conflict with Iraq, the time is right for the United States and coalition allies to press for resolution of the crisis and other issues in the troubled region, including the longstanding Arab-Israeli dispute and the civil war in Lebanon.
Bush also has said he wants to make his own trip to the region, including a stop in Israel, but aides have recently indicated the president does not want to go until more substantive progress is made in the peace efforts.
Scowcroft was back in his White House office Friday morning and briefed Bush on the trip before the president headed to Camp David for the Easter weekend.
Bush leaves Sunday for a fishing vacation in Islamorada, Fla., and travels next week to California for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and to Houston to meet with Mexican President Carlos Salinas deGortari.