By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 5, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates emphasized today that the United States will keep its Arab friends informed of any talks it enters into with Iran, and has no intention of springing on them "some kind of grand bargain developed in secret." The secretary spoke with reporters at Egypt's presidential palace after meeting with President Hosni Mubarek in a dialog he said included Iran and other security issues.
Gates worked to allay concerns about President Barack Obama's decision to reach out to Iran, and stressed that Washington will keep its regional friends and allies in the loop should any dialog occur. The secretary said he believes there's "some exaggerated concern" in the region "that there may be some grand bargain between the United States and Iran that will suddenly be sprung on them."
Such a prospect is "highly unlikely," he said. "What is important for our friends to understand is that we will keep them informed and be transparent about this process."
Gates offered a tempered assessment of prospects about increased U.S. dialog with Iran.
"The United States goes into this with its eyes wide open," he said. "There have been previous attempts to establish a dialog with the Iranian government, [and] they have not proven successful. Our hope is that this time, as the president stresses, if we extend an open hand, perhaps we will get something similar in response."
The big question, he said, is whether circumstances in Iran have changed enough for the Iranians to take advantage of Obama's opportunity for contact. So far, only "a few initial contacts" have taken place, and any broader dialogue, should it occur at all, will develop "over a period of time," he said.
Initial response to U.S. outreach, evidenced through statements issued from Tehran, "have not been very encouraging," Gates conceded.
"We are not willing to pull the hand back yet, because we think there is still opportunity," he said.
Gates spelled out the two-fold U.S. goal regarding Iran. "Obviously we want to try to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program," he said. "But we are also interested in stopping Iran's destabilizing efforts throughout the region."
Noting "very broad concern in the region about Iran and its activities," Gates said the United States will continue working with its friends there to find ways to influence its activities and behavior.
Gates reiterated the need for diplomatic and economic pressure that isolates Tehran, and strengthening of regional friends' security capabilities through cooperation with the Europeans and others.
This, he said, will help "show Iran that its behavior is unwelcome to virtually all the countries of the world."