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Gulf states agree with US on approach to Iran: Gates

Says Iran neighbors concerned over its "aggressive behavior"

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Iran's neighbors are clearly concerned about Tehran's "aggressive behavior" and support international sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday after a week of travel that included stops in two Gulf states.

"You can see the general support in the region for applying the sanctions and for doing what we can to make the sanctions effective and try to influence the Iranian government to walk away from their nuclear weapons program," Gates told reporters on his plane home after visiting Oman, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Gates visited the region this week after revelations in leaked U.S. diplomatic cables showing Gulf leaders alarmed over Iran's nuclear work and its assertive role in region, with some demanding that Washington take military action.

"There clearly is concern" in the Gulf

The defense secretary has argued that sanctions are beginning to take a toll on Iran while warning repeatedly that a military strike would at best only delay a nuclear program for a few years while rallying the population behind the leadership.

Across the Gulf, "there clearly is concern about Iran's overall aggressive behavior with respect to Hezbollah and Lebanon and other places around the world," he said.

The United States has favored diplomacy in its approach to Iran but refused to rule out a military strike, while Israel has made clear it is prepared to take action to prevent Tehran from attaining an atomic bomb.

Israel has publicly voiced its worries over Tehran's uranium enrichment work, but Arab leaders in the Gulf have kept their views mostly private, until the WikiLeaks website exposed their fixation with Iran by publishing a trove of secret U.S. diplomatic files.

Gates, heading back to Washington, met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan on Thursday and held talks with the Sultan of Oman over the weekend in Muscat.

Recounting his meeting in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, Gates said he had "productive" talks with Sheikh Mohammed that covered Iran, security threats out of Yemen and the war in Afghanistan.

"We obviously talked about Iran and the importance of the sanctions and keeping the diplomatic and economic pressure on," he said.

The two discussed promoting regional cooperation on missile defense and maritime surveillance, amid concern among Arab states over Iran's missile stockpiles.

We obviously talked about Iran and the importance of the sanctions and keeping the diplomatic and economic pressure on

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Possible attack on Iran

Gates declined to comment when asked if he and the crown prince discussed a possible attack on Iran.

Gates said he and the crown prince, one of the UAE's leading defense officials, also discussed the need to continue international support for Yemen and its leader in confronting a range of challenges. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a growing threat in Yemen.

"We talked about Yemen and ... the concerns we have about Yemen and President Saleh (Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh) ... as he takes on the various challenges there," Gates said.

Asked what more could be done in Yemen, Gates said the key was to try to address the underlying issues before they produced a crisis whose solution would be primarily military.

"The key is getting in there before there's a crisis with economic assistance, with building partnership capacity," he said. "I think that both the UAE and Oman are engaged in these activities, these development projects. Other countries are as well."

He said the United States had similar efforts in Yemen.

Gates told a town hall meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan on Thursday that one of the main lessons to be learned from the conflicts the United States is now fighting is the need to address the underlying problems before they become a crisis.

"The hardest thing for us to sell to legislators is what we in the military call Phase Zero operations, getting into a place that's got problems and addressing those problems, building the capacity of that government , both civilian and military, so it can deal with those problems so that we don't subsequently have to send in our troops," he said.

You can see the general support in the region for applying the sanctions and for doing what we can to make the sanctions effective and try to influence the Iranian government to walk away from their nuclear weapons program

Gates