NewsSpecial WireText of Gates' comments on U.S. engagement with Iran

Text of Gates’ comments on U.S. engagement with Iran

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Iran Focus: London, Jan. 17 – “As you probably remember, I co-chaired a council on foreign relations study on the United States relations with Iran in 2004 with Dr. Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, and our conclusion at that time was that it would be useful for the United States to engage with Iran and it appeared to be promising because the Iranians clearly were concerned by the presence of American troops on both their eastern and western borders and there was some evidence they were actually doing some things to be helpful inside Iraq. None of those conditions apply any longer”. Iran Focus

London, Jan. 17 – The following is a partial transcript of a press conference by United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer held in Brussels on January 15. The excerpts primarily relate to Gates’ remarks on Iran. Full text available at: http://www.defenselink.mil/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=3865

Q: A question for Secretary Gates. This is Bob Burns from AP.

Mr. Secretary, with your recent decision to deploy Patriot missiles to the Gulf and to move a second aircraft carrier into that region, is the United States moving toward confrontation with Iran; and if it’s not, what is the purpose of those deployments?

SEC. GATES: I think that what we are trying to communicate to all of the countries in the Gulf area is a reaffirmation that the United States has had a strong presence in the Gulf for a long time. Multiple presidents have affirmed that stability in the Gulf is in the long-term strategic vital interests of the United States and we are simply reaffirming that statement of the importance of the Gulf region to the United States and our determination to be an ongoing strong presence in that area for a long time into the future.

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Q: Mr. Secretary David Cloud with the New York Times.

Just to follow up on Bob’s question: there have been calls by the Iraq Study Group and others for more diplomatic engagement with Iran. One of the thrusts of the administration’s new Iraq strategy appears to be more confrontation with Iran. You’ve talked about going after Iranian networks inside Iraq; the Patriot deployments, the carrier deployments, do seem to be aimed, in part at least, at Iran. Is that the case and can you explain the thinking behind that?

SEC. GATES: Well I had, as you probably remember, I co-chaired a council on foreign relations study on the United States relations with Iran in 2004 with Dr. Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, and our conclusion at that time was that it would be useful for the United States to engage with Iran and it appeared to be promising because the Iranians clearly were concerned by the presence of American troops on both their eastern and western borders and there was some evidence they were actually doing some things to be helpful inside Iraq. None of those conditions apply any longer.

The Iranians clearly believe that we’re tied down in Iraq; that they have the initiative, that they are in a position to press us in many ways. They are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point. In addition, they have supported Hezbollah’s efforts to create a new conflict in Lebanon and so the Iranians are acting in a very negative way in many respects. My view is that when the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with some of these problems, then there might be opportunities for engagement. Secretary Rice already has said that she would sit down any time, any place with her counterpart from Iran if they would commit not to enrich uranium.

So the opportunity is there for engagement, but I would say that the initiative needs to rest with the Iranians and we are simply trying to communicate to the region that we’re going to be there for a long time.

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