Iran General NewsU.S. has few bargaining chips in Iran disputes: Gates

U.S. has few bargaining chips in Iran disputes: Gates

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Reuters: The United States has little reason to negotiate with Iran now because the government in Tehran does not want anything from Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
By Andrew Gray

MANAMA (Reuters) – The United States has little reason to negotiate with Iran now because the government in Tehran does not want anything from Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.

Gates, on a tour of Gulf countries, said the United States must first gain more leverage over Tehran. He did not say how Washington might do this but said Iran had been emboldened by America’s difficulties in Iraq.

The United States and Iran are engaged in increasingly heated disputes. Washington has accused Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons and of fomenting violence in Iraq.

Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and that it is not interfering in Iraq.

“Frankly, right at this moment, there’s really nothing the Iranians want from us,” Gates told reporters in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. “So in any negotiation right now we would be supplicant — ‘we want you to stop doing X, Y and Z’.”

“We need some leverage, it seems to me, before we engage with the Iranians,” he added.

But Gates, a former CIA director who replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Pentagon chief last month, said he believed there would come a time for talking with Iran and there was no need for the war of words to become a military conflict.

“Look, nobody wants another conflict in this region,” he said. “There are many courses of action available that do not involve a conflict with Iran. There’s no need for that.”

Gates said Iran had been concerned several years ago with U.S. forces close to its borders because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but had become bolder and tried to increase its influence in the region as America struggled in Iraq.

But Gates, who met Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Wednesday and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani on Thursday, also said the Iranians had “overplayed their hand” and raised concerns in neighboring states and beyond.

“Our difficulties (in Iraq) have given them a tactical opportunity in the short term but the United States is a very powerful country,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week she was ready to meet Iran’s leadership “any time, anywhere” if it suspended its enrichment of uranium.

If such a meeting took place, the two sides could discuss “every facet” of their relationship, Rice told a Washington news conference on January 11.

Rice said that until Tehran gave up its uranium enrichment program, the international community should continue to hold it accountable. The United Nations imposed limited sanctions on Iran last month to put pressure on it to stop enrichment.

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