Gates Says U.S. Has Few Options To Halt Iran’s Atomic Plans

January 19th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Gates Says U.S. Has Few Options To Halt Iran’s Atomic Plans

New York Times
January 19, 2007
Pg. 8

By David S. Cloud
MANAMA, Bahrain, Jan. 18 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Thursday played down the possibility of American military action against Iran but said it was not the right time for diplomatic engagement, either.
“Frankly, right at this moment there’s really nothing the Iranians want from us, and so in any negotiation right now we would be the supplicant,” Mr. Gates told reporters after talks with allies in the Persian Gulf.
His comments were a blunt acknowledgment that the Bush administration, despite its increasingly tough comments toward Iran in recent weeks, has limited options to compel its leaders to halt their nuclear program or to play a more supportive role in Iraq.
Mr. Gates said he told the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, over lunch on Thursday “that the Iranians were being very aggressive” because they believed that “they have the United States at some disadvantage because of the situation in Iraq.”
He said he had told the emir that the United States did not intend to retreat from its commitments to defend the region’s Sunni Arab governments.
In meetings late Wednesday with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Gates said the United States viewed Iraq, despite the close ties between some in its Shiite-dominated government and Shiite Iran, as a bulwark against Tehran, said a senior Defense Department official.
“Our Arab friends tend to see Iraq in the context of the new challenge from Iran,” the official said. “That’s clearly the Saudi perspective. So the secretary was able to reassure them that we want an Iraq that is a barrier against Iranian expansionism.”
Mr. Gates also met with Bahrain’s leader, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, on Thursday night.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said Thursday that Iran was prepared for anything in the standoff with the West over its nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful energy purposes and the United States contends is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
“Today, with the grace of God, we have gone through the arduous passes and we are ready for anything in this path,” Iran’s state-run television quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying, The Associated Press reported.
He was apparently referring to the United Nations decision to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities and to the American decision to move a second aircraft carrier, the John C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf and to extend deployments of Patriot antimissile defense systems in Kuwait and Qatar.
Commodore Keith Winstanley of Britain, who is second in command of coalition naval forces in the region, told reporters at a briefing on Thursday that the carrier deployment should not be seen entirely as a move aimed at intimidating Iran, but he added, “I’m sure there’s a message there for Iran.”
Mr. Gates, who also met with the top American Navy and Air Force commanders in the region, said the deployments were meant to show that, for all its problems in Iraq, the United States could still fulfill its security commitments in the Persian Gulf.
He added: “Nobody wants another conflict in this region. My view is that there are many courses of actions available that do not involve a conflict with Iran. There is no need for that.”
He acknowledged that the United States’ troubles stabilizing Iraq had given Iran an opportunity to seek to expand its influence in the region but that the Iranians were “overplaying their hand.”
Even though Iran is worrying its neighbors, he said, he disagreed with critics, including the Iraq Study Group, who have called for the Bush administration to hold talks with Iran and enlist its support in stabilizing Iraq. Mr. Gates had been a member of the group before resigning to become defense secretary.
Perhaps seeking leverage, the White House late last year approved a stepped up campaign of going after Iranian operatives inside Iraq, who United States officials say have been involved in supplying materials for the homemade bombs that are the largest killer of American troops in Iraq.

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