Gates sees Iran as ‘neg­a­tive’; urges Tehran to change ways in re­gion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By David R. Sands

BRUS­SELS — Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert M. Gates on Jan. 15 saidIra­nis“do­ing­noth­ing­to­be­con­struc­tive” in Iraq, in­sist­ing it was up to Tehran to change its poli­cies in Iraq and across the re­gion be­fore it can hope for bet­ter ties with the United States.

But Mr. Gates, meet­ing briefly with­NATOSec­re­tary-Gen­er­alJaap de Hoop Scheffer here be­fore mak­ing his first trip as Pen­tagon chief to Afghanistan, also said re­cent moves­byPres­i­den­tBush­to­b­ulkup U.S. forces and mil­i­tary as­sets in the Per­sian Gulf should not be con­sid­ered a pre­lude to pos­si­ble ac­tion against Iran.

Part of the pres­i­dent’s new strat­egy for Iraq out­lined two weeks ago in­cluded the de­ploy­ment of ad­di­tional Pa­triot anti-mis­sile sys­tems to U.S. al­lies in the re­gion.

The moves are meant to un­der­score the U.S. com­mit­ment to re­main en­gaged through­out the Mid­dle East, re­gard­less of the state of progress in Iraq.

“I think what we are try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate to all the coun­tries of the Gulf area [. . . ] is that the sta­bil­ity of the Gulf is a long-term strate­gic in­ter­est of the United States,” Mr. Gates said.

Iran, mean­while, asked Saudi Ara­bia to help ease ten­sions be­tween the Is­lamic repub­lic and the United States in a let­ter de­liv­ered by Tehran’s chief nu­clear ne­go­tia­tor, Ali Lar­i­jani, to the Saudi king, Reuters news agency re­ported on Jan. 15.

Thelet­ter­fromIra­ni­anSupreme Lead­erAy­a­tol­lahAliKhameneiand Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad wanted Saudi lead­ers to re­lay a good­will mes­sage to Wash­ing­ton — to “help bring opin­ions to­gether” be­tween the two coun­tries.

Mr. Gates co-au­thored a 2004 Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions study ad­vo­cat­ing a pos­si­ble rap­proche­ment with Iran, based on Tehran’s grow­ing­con­cern­­i­tary suc­cesses in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the de­fense sec­re­tary, who took of­fice just last month, said Iran’s at- ti­tudes and ac­tions have changed dra­mat­i­cally as the U.S.-led mil­i­tary cam­paign­inIraqhas­bogged­down.

“Iran is do­ing noth­ing to be con­struc­tive in Iraq at this point,” Mr. Gates said. “It is act­ing in a very neg­a­tive way, in my opin­ion.” Only when there is a change of pol­icy in Tehran “will there be room for en­gage­ment” with the United States, he said. “The ini­tia­tive needs to rest with the Ira­ni­ans.”

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say Iran has close ties to Shi’ite Iraqi mili­tia and has sup­plied ex­plo­sives and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for at­tacks on Amer­i­cans.

On a sep­a­rate is­sue, Mr. Gates said se­nior Bri­tish mil­i­tary of­fi­cials had con­firmed to him dur­ing a Jan. 14 visit that they planned to be­gin re­duc­ing Bri­tain’s 7,000troop de­ploy­ment in south­ern Iraq this year, even as the United States plans to in­crease its troop de­ploy­ment by more than 21,000 to com­bat a spike in vi­o­lence in Bagh­dad and An­bar prov­ince.

Af­ter the United States, Bri­tain is the largest con­trib­u­tor to the multi­na­tional force in Iraq and has had pri­mary se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­ity in the Shi’ite south­ern heart­land since 2003.

Mr. Gates and Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said much of their talk cen­tered on bol­ster­ing the NATO mis­sion in Afghanistan, which has faced resur­gent at­tacks from Is­lamist fun­da­men­tal­ist forces.

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