News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqDefense Secretary, in Afghan capital, scolds Iran

Defense Secretary, in Afghan capital, scolds Iran


New York Times: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that Iran was “acting in a very negative way” in the Middle East and that the United States was building up its forces to demonstrate its resolve to remain in the Persian Gulf. The New York Times

Published: January 16, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 15 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that Iran was “acting in a very negative way” in the Middle East and that the United States was building up its forces to demonstrate its resolve to remain in the Persian Gulf.

“The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they’re in a position to press us in many ways,” Mr. Gates said, speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels before flying here. “We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time.”

Delivering that message to Iran — and to allies in the region worried that Washington is consumed with stabilizing Iraq — is one of Mr. Gates’s priorities on a trip to the region this week that will take him later to the Persian Gulf.

Senior Pentagon officials said they also planned to stress to the largely Sunni Arab governments worried about Iran that they must assist the United States in Iraq with reconstruction aid and with putting pressure on fellow Sunnis to reach political reconciliation.

President Bush announced last week, in his speech laying out his new Iraq strategy, that he was also sending a second aircraft carrier and several Patriot antimissile batteries to the Persian Gulf.

“The United States has had a strong presence in the Gulf for a long time,” Mr. Gates said. “We are simply reaffirming that” with the buildup, he said.

In Afghanistan, which Mr. Gates is visiting for the first time as defense secretary, he is expected to meet with President Hamid Karzai and with American and NATO commanders. There are about 23,000 American troops in Afghanistan, 11,000 of them under NATO command. Other NATO countries are supplying 20,000 soldiers.

In a stop at NATO headquarters in Brussels before flying to Kabul, Mr. Gates said he had discussed the increase over the last year in Taliban attacks, especially in the south, with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary general. Mr. Gates said that there had been “indications that the Taliban were planning a large spring offensive,” and that he and Mr. de Hoop Scheffer had talked about “how perhaps to avoid it.”

Though Mr. Gates is largely concerned during his trip with explaining the White House plan to stabilize Iraq, he is also dealing with Iran, following a decision announced last week by President Bush.

As part of its review of Iraq strategy, concluded last week, the Bush administration rejected a proposal by the Iraq Study Group to resume diplomatic contacts with Iran.

Mr. Gates, who endorsed resuming diplomatic contacts with Iran in 2004, two years before he joined the Bush administration, said that Iran’s behavior had worsened since then and that resuming diplomatic relations would be possible only when Iran was “prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with some of these problems.”

He said Iran “was doing nothing to be helpful” in Iraq, where the American military conducted two recent operations that resulted in the arrest of Iranians who the United States said were suspected of involvement in providing bomb-making materials. He also criticized Iran for aiding Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Bush administration officials have sought to rally international pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program, which the White House has said is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.

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