Iran General NewsGates says US-Arab ties unchanged by Iran outreach

Gates says US-Arab ties unchanged by Iran outreach

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ImageAFP: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday said Arab fears of a possible "grand bargain" between Iran and the United States were unfounded and Washington would not abandon its long-time regional allies.

ImageCAIRO (AFP) — US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday said Arab fears of a possible "grand bargain" between Iran and the United States were unfounded and Washington would not abandon its long-time regional allies.

Seeking to reassure Egypt and other Arab governments about a potential shift in the regional balance of power, Gates said after talks with President Hosni Mubarak that Washington would proceed carefully in its diplomacy with Iran.

There were "some exaggerated concerns, some notion here in the region that there might some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that would suddenly be sprung on them," he told reporters in the Egyptian capital.

Such concerns were "completely unrealistic," Gates said.

He promised that Washington would keep its allies posted on the US bid for dialogue with Iran following three decades of severed ties and that no deal would be hatched in secret.

"We will keep our friends informed about what is going so that nobody gets surprised," he said.

Although the US diplomatic effort was in its early stages, Gates said that Tehran's initial response was "not encouraging."

The chance of striking a "grand bargain" between the the Islamic republic and the United States, in which a whole array of disputes would be resolved, remained slim, he said.

"I believe that kind of prospect is very remote. I think it's very unlikely," he said.

Whatever the outcome of US diplomacy with Iran, Washington's relations with Arab allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia would remain as strong as ever, he said.

"Reaching out to Iran with an open hand in no way minimises or changes the strong security relationship and political relationship that the US has with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and other long-term friends in the region," Gates said.

He then travelled on to Riyadh, where concern is running high over Iran's influence in the region.

Egypt is the second largest recipient of US military aid, after Israel, and plays a key role in mediating between Palestinian militant groups and the Jewish state.

But Cairo has not had diplomatic relations with Tehran for 30 years.

US President Barack Obama has sought to open up diplomatic channels with arch-foe Iran in a bid to defuse tensions over its nuclear programme, but Gates said the White House had realistic expectations about what could be achieved.

"If we encounter a closed fist when we offer an open hand, then we will react accordingly," Gates said.

With Sunni-led Arab countries concerned over Tehran's influence with the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, Gates urged Arab states to make a greater effort to cultivate ties with Baghdad.

Gates said that during his visit to Riyadh he expected to discuss the possible transfer of Yemeni detainees from the US-run "war on terror" prison at Guantanamo Bay.

"The Saudis have perhaps the most successful repatriation, reeducation programme of any country at this point and so clearly there will be an interest in pursuing that with them," he said en route to Cairo.

US officials have been concerned that next-door Yemen is unable to provide sufficient security for the returning detainees.

Yemenis account for nearly 100 of the remaining 240 inmates at the controversial detention camp of Guantanamo, which Obama has promised to close by early next year.

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