Monday, January 15, 2007

Gates Says Military Moves in Gulf Spotlight U.S. Commitment

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Jan. 15, 2007 – Moving another carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf region and manning Patriot anti-missile batteries there is a way of telling the people of the area that the United States has an enduring interest in peace, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. The addition of the USS Stimson group will mean two carrier groups in the region for the first time since 2004, officials said.

With Iranian moves in the region, the addition of the
Navy and anti-missile capability was a prudent move, officials said.

"Multiple presidents have decided that U.S. presence in the region is in the long-term strategic interests of the United States," Gates said during a short news conference today at NATO headquarters. "We are reaffirming the importance of the Gulf to the United States and the determination to be a strong presence in the area for a long time into the future."

Gates said that in 2004, he co-chaired a group for the Council of Foreign Relations looking at U.S.-Iranian relations. At that time, he felt "it would be useful for the United States to engage with Iran."

In 2004, the Iranians were concerned by the presence of American troops on both their eastern and western borders, and there was some evidence that Iranian
leaders were trying to be helpful inside Iraq, he said.

"None of those conditions applies any longer," he said. "The Iranians obviously believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they have the means to press us in many ways."

He said the Iranian government is doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq, and officials traveling with Gates said the Iranians are helping to arm groups in Iraq that are targeting U.S. servicemembers. "In addition they have supported Hezbollah's efforts to create a new conflict in Lebanon," Gates said.

He said the Iranians are acting in a "very negative way" in the region. "My view is that when the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with some of these problems, then there might be opportunities for engagement," the secretary said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has already said she would talk with her Iranian counterpart anytime at anyplace once Iran ends its uranium enrichment effort. "The opportunity is there for engagement, but I would say that the initiative needs to rest with the Iranians," Gates said.

At NATO, Gates spoke with Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer about countering an expected Taliban spring offensive in Afghanistan. The two men also discussed manning for the Kosovo force, NATO transformation and building strategic airlift for the alliance.

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