The Guardian: Claiming Iran may secretly have resumed efforts to build a nuclear weapon, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, called for intensified international pressure on Tehran and urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to develop a joint air and missile shield to ward off future threats. The Guardian
· US defence secretary says Tehran is bent on chaos
· Nuclear programme may have restarted, he believes
Simon Tisdall in Manama, Bahrain
Claiming Iran may secretly have resumed efforts to build a nuclear weapon, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, called for intensified international pressure on Tehran and urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to develop a joint air and missile shield to ward off future threats.
Speaking at a weekend security conference in Bahrain, Gates insisted multilateral defence cooperation was an “absolute necessity”. The region faced a “truculent” leadership in Tehran that was “bent on confrontation with its neighbours and deeply engaged in subverting stability in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
“Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or the cost in the blood of innocents – Christians, Jews and Muslims alike,” he said.
Gates said Tehran, as well as backing Hizbullah and Hamas, was developing medium-range ballistic missiles that are “not particularly cost-effective unless equipped with warheads carrying weapons of mass destruction”.
Erecting a joint “protective defensive missile umbrella” would enable the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – to reduce the chances of a successful attack, he added.
Gates’s hardline statements followed last week’s publication of the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. The report’s key conclusion that Tehran had suspended a nuclear weapons programme in 2003 embarrassed President George Bush and led some regional allies to suspect the White House was preparing to take a softer line. Gates dispelled that notion. “The NIE reports that they [Iran”> do continue their nuclear enrichment programme … It states they do have the mechanisms still in place to restart their programme. And the estimate is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could restart its nuclear weapons programme at any time – if it has not done so already.”
Addressing the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual security summit, Gates called for intensified economic, financial and diplomatic pressure on Iran. He added that there were many “opportunities” for the US and like-minded countries to maintain the pressure even if Russia and China blocked a third UN sanctions resolution. While all options, including military action, remained on the table, the US was “100% focused on diplomatic and economic measures”.
Regional governments, friendly or otherwise, should not underestimate US resolve, he warned. “Imperial Germany, imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, the Soviet Union – all made this fatal miscalculation. All paid the price. All are on the ash heap of history.”
Regional experts say Gulf leaders share US concerns about Iran’s political and nuclear ambitions and speak forcefully about them in private. But Gates’s reassertion of Washington’s tough stance, coupled with an ongoing refusal to pursue unconditional talks with Tehran, drew sharp public criticism at the weekend.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, said: “We can’t solve our problems by trying to seal Iran off from the region … The US should hold direct talks.”
Abdul-Rahman Al-Attiyah, the GCC’s secretary general, said: “We believe in dialogue to solve the crisis.”
Gary Samore, of the US Council on Foreign Relations, said the criticisms reflected worries about US intentions. “The Gulf states are insecure and resentful but they are in a very weak position. Gates had to reassure them that the US was not giving up on Iran after the NIE.” Iran was invited to the conference but pulled out.