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Defense Secretary Reassures US Allies in Gulf, Iraq; Warns Iran

By Edward Yeranian
13 December 2008

During a trip to Bahrain, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reassured U.S. allies in the Gulf that Washington is prepared to defend them in the event of any unforeseen conflict. Mr. Gates then made an unannounced visit to Baghdad.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with a number of top U.S. allies in the Gulf during a visit to Centcom Headquarters in Manama, Bahrain, telling them that he was bringing a "message of continuity and commitment to our friends and partners in the region" from President-elect Obama.

Gates went on to pay a surprise visit to U.S. forces in Iraq, landing at Anaconda Airbase, 70 kilometers north of Baghdad. His visit is the first to the Gulf region since the United States and Iraq signed a new three-year security pact, due to go into effect on January 1.

On the Bahrain leg of the trip, Secretary Gates warned U.S. adversaries not to take advantage of President-elect Barack Obama when he takes office on January 20, 2009.

"So anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to test the new administration would be sorely mistaken," he said. "President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on January 20."

Mr. Gates also insisted that any U.S. adversary that is looking to test the mettle of President-elect Obama was "sorely mistaken."

The secretary pointedly criticized Iran, repeating complaints by the outgoing Bush administration that Tehran has been trying to destabilize Iraq, and to reinforce its own military arsenal.

"But I will tell you that one thing I think I can say with some confidence is that the President-elect and his team are under no illusions about Iran's behavior and what Iran has been doing in the region and is doing in terms of its own weapons programs," he said.

He also insisted that "nobody is after a regime change in Iran," but that the United States and other nations were looking for a "change in policies" and a "change in behavior." Gates added that it "remains to be seen" if President Obama will opt to talk with Iran directly.

Secretary Gates said on December 3 that U.S. commanders have been mulling over an accelerated drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq, but insisted that he wasn't "concerned about a timetable." President-elect Obama, he argued, wants to have a "responsible drawdown," and that he was prepared to "listen to his commanders" on how to proceed.

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