16 January 2007
Pentagon Chief Says Iran Seeks To Exploit U.S. Exposure in Iraq
Secretary Gates visits London, Brussels, Belgium, en route to Afghanistan
Washington -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he recommended diplomatic engagement with Iran in 2004, but added that the Islamic republic today does not seek constructive cooperation and instead is attempting to exploit U.S. difficulties in neighboring Iraq.
At a news conference January 15 at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Gates said his recent deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries and a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf are meant to demonstrate long-term U.S. resolve throughout the region. Gates met with officials in London and Brussels en route to a January 16 visit to Afghanistan.
The enhanced military presence is “a reaffirmation that the United States has had a strong presence in the Gulf region for a long time,” Gates said. Multiple U.S. presidents have said regional stability there is a vital strategic interest for the United States, Gates said. He added that “we are simply reaffirming … our determination to be a strong presence in that area for a long time into the future.”
Gates also said Iran appears to be trying to take advantage of perceived U.S. vulnerability in Iraq. A recent Washington report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended diplomatic engagement between the United States and all of Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran. Gates said he co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations study in 2004 that concluded that engagement with Iran would benefit the United States. Gates told reporters the situation in the region has changed considerably since 2004, however.
The 2004 study was co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser under President Carter. At the time of the study, Gates said, diplomatic engagement “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 that they were actually doing some things to be helpful inside Iraq.”
Gates added, however, that “none of those conditions apply any longer.”
Today, Gates said, “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.”
Iran also has supported the terrorist group Hezbollah's efforts to create a new conflict in Lebanon, Gates said.
“And so the Iranians are acting in a very negative way in many respects,” he said. “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 of State Condoleezza Rice already has said that she would meet with her Iranian counterpart if the government of Iran would commit to not enriching uranium, Gates said. (See related article.)
“So the opportunity is there for engagement,” Gates said. “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.”
Deploying the USS Stimson aircraft carrier means the United States will have two carrier groups in the Gulf region for the first time since 2004, the American Forces Press Service said.
President Bush said January 10 that he intended to deploy an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq, adding to the 130,000 American troops already there. Due to ongoing Iraqi factional violence, however, some members of Congress oppose an increased military presence in the country. (See related article.)
For more information on U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.
A transcript of Gates’ January 15 news conference is posted on the Defense Department’s Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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