United States pressure On Iran
By DAVID S. CLOUD
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 15 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that Iran was “acting in a
very negative way” in the Middle East and that the United States was building up its forces to demonstrate its resolve
to remain in the Persian Gulf.
“The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they’re
in a position to press us in many ways,” Mr. Gates said, speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels before
flying here. “We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time.”
Delivering that message to Iran — and to allies in the region worried that Washington is consumed with
stabilizing Iraq — is one of Mr. Gates’s priorities on a trip to the region this week that will take him later to the
Senior Pentagon officials said they also planned to stress to the largely Sunni Arab governments worried about Iran
that they must assist the United States in Iraq with reconstruction aid and with putting pressure on fellow Sunnis to
reach political reconciliation.
President Bush announced last week, in his speech laying out his new Iraq strategy, that he was also
sending a second aircraft carrier and several Patriot antimissile batteries to the Persian Gulf.
“The United States has had a strong presence in the Gulf for a long time,” Mr. Gates said. “We are simply reaffirming
that” with the buildup, he said.
In Afghanistan, which Mr. Gates is visiting for the first time as defense secretary, he is expected to meet with
President Hamid Karzai and with American and NATO commanders. There are about 23,000 American troops in Afghanistan,
11,000 of them under NATO command. Other NATO countries are supplying 20,000 soldiers.
In a stop at NATO headquarters in Brussels before flying to Kabul, Mr. Gates said he had discussed the
increase over the last year in Taliban attacks, especially in the south, with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary
general. Mr. Gates said that there had been “indications that the Taliban were planning a large spring offensive,” and
that he and Mr. de Hoop Scheffer had talked about “how perhaps to avoid it.”
Though Mr. Gates is largely concerned during his trip with explaining the White House plan to stabilize
Iraq, he is also dealing with Iran, following a decision announced last week by President Bush.
As part of its review of Iraq strategy, concluded last week, the Bush administration rejected a proposal
by the Iraq Study Group to resume diplomatic contacts with Iran.
Mr. Gates, who endorsed resuming diplomatic contacts with Iran in 2004, two years before he joined the
Bush administration, said that Iran’s behavior had worsened since then and that resuming diplomatic relations would be
possible only when Iran was “prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with some of these problems.”
He said Iran “was doing nothing to be helpful” in Iraq, where the American military conducted two recent
operations that resulted in the arrest of Iranians who the United States said were suspected of involvement in
providing bomb-making materials. He also criticized Iran for aiding Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Bush administration officials have sought to rally international pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear
program, which the White House has said is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.
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