By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 13, 2007 – The quantity of Iranian weapons being shipped to the Taliban in Afghanistan makes it unlikely that the Iranian government is not involved, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Gates also said he is concerned about the results of another attack on the Golden Mosque in Samara, Iraq.
"It would appear to be yet another effort by al Qaeda to try to prevent political reconciliation in Iraq, to try and stoke sectarian violence," he told reporters traveling with him.
Gates said he hopes the Iraqi people realize the attack was a transparent effort by the terrorist group to incite the sects and force more division between Sunni and Shiia Muslims. He expressed the hope the Iraqi people will realize this and refrain from violence.
A previous al Qaeda attack on the mosque on Feb. 22, 2006, ignited the sectarian violence that has plagued the country ever since. Sunni and Shiia death squads attacked each other following that attack. Today's attack destroyed two minarets on the grounds of the mosque.
Turning to the Iranian weapons being used in Afghanistan, Gates said they "run the gamut" from sophisticated explosively formed projectiles to basic ammunition.
"It's pretty clear there is a fairly substantial flow of weapons (into Afghanistan)," he said. "I haven't seen intelligence specifically to this effect, but I would say given the qualities we're seeing, it's difficult to believe it is associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it is taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government."
The situation is ironic, given that the Afghan and Iranian governments have generally good relations, the secretary said.
"Whether Iran is trying to play both sides of the street, hedge their bets -- what their motives are other than causing trouble for us, I don't know," he said.
Today, Gates received briefings at U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, and visited wounded servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. He then will move to Brussels, Belgium, for NATO defense minister meetings.
Looking ahead, Gates said, he is prepared to discuss missile defense at the NATO meeting. He will examine the proposal put forth by Russian President Vladimir Putin to somehow combine the U.S. and Russian effort and have the European missile defense leg use radars in Azerbaijan. Putin made the proposal in talks with President Bush during the G-8 meetings in Germany last week.
"I'm pleased that President Putin acknowledged there is merit to missile defense," Gates said, "and that Iran does represent a problem that needs to be dealt with in terms of potential missile defense. I think there is a basis for having some good conversations."
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