Gates: Middle East Trip Aimed to Sow Long-Term Relationships
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
EN ROUTE TO WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates described his just-concluded trip to the Middle East as “gardening” – preparing the ground for long-term U.S. security relationships in the region.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with Mohammed bin Zayeed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the United Arab Emirates military, Aug. 2, 2007. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
To describe his four-day, four-country visit to the region, Gates borrowed the metaphor from former Secretary of State George Schultz.
As with gardening, Gates said, he hoped to be laying groundwork to be “harvested” in the future in the form of stronger relationships needed in light of threats facing the region.
The secretary met in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, today with Mohammed bin Zayeed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE military, and visited Kuwait yesterday. Before that, he made joint visits with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where they met with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“What this was about was the beginning of a dialog with our friends and partners in the region about both Iraq and Iran on the one hand and long-term interests and security on the other,” Gates told reporters during the return flight to Washington.
Gates said he also sought to reassure countries in the region that “the United States is going to be a major power and a major presence in this region for a long time to come.”
The themes ran consistent throughout the trip: long-term security and stability in the region, what to do about Iran, and the need to be more supportive of the Iraqi government.
At every stop this week, Gates encouraged stronger support for Iraq’s government as it works to build unity amid sectarian strife. Just as Baghdad needs to reach out to Sunni Muslims to include them in its decision-making process, “it is also important for moderate Arab governments to welcome Iraq into the Arab fold and to make it their partner,” a senior defense official said on background.
That will be critical, he said, as they work together to help support the Iraqi government while ensuring they’re able to counter mutual threats, such as terrorist extremists and Iranian ambitions.
Gates encountered widespread concern about Iran during his visits. “In terms of being country-specific in terms of concern with Iran, there was no difference of opinion,” he said.
“Iran is actively engaged right now (in) activities that are contrary to the interests of most of the countries -- virtually all of the countries that we just visited, as well as the United States, as well as Iraq,” he said.
“We can’t wait years for them to try to change their policies. … The more countries in the world that cooperate in the U.N. sanctions (against Iran) and in bringing pressures to bear on this government that its policies are antithetical to the interests of all its neighbors, the better off we’ll be.
“We all need to work together,” Gates said. “There’s not really room for bystanders here.”
Throughout the visit, Gates explored ways to expand existing security relationships.
“There are clearly areas where we can strengthen bilateral cooperation -- air and missile defense, maritime security, crisis management, perhaps more multilateral exercises -- and … some of those things have potential regional application,” a senior defense official said.
He compared existing U.S. security relationships in the region to the “hub-and-spoke” arrangement the United States shares with many Asian countries. “We have very strong bilateral relationships with a number of different counties, but they mostly don’t have security relationships with one another. That’s kind of what we have in the Middle East right now,” the official said.
“But there are some areas where there is room for cooperation among more than two countries, just as there is in Asia,” he said. “That is the kind of thing we would explore.”
Leaders Gates met with this week were “intrigued by some of the multilateral notions,” the official said. But formal, structured arrangements aren’t likely to be in the cards, he said.
Gates told reporters he’s hopeful the visits bear fruit in terms of stronger relationships able to stand up to pressing challenges and that they help establish policies that supersede politics.
“The only way you deal with the threat we face from al Qaeda or from Iran and these other places is to have a policy in place that has bipartisan support and that can be sustained through multiple administrations,” he said. “So when I talk about gardening, it may be the next administration or the administration after that that harvests all this.”