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Gates to Address Gulf Regional Security at Manama Dialogue

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, Dec. 7, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will encourage closer cooperation to promote security in the Persian Gulf region at the fourth annual Manama Dialogue, which opens here tonight.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is welcomed to Bahrain by Crown Prince His Majesty Hamad bin Al-Khalifa, Dec. 6, 2007. Gates is in the region to discuss defense issues and recieve updates from commanders. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The three-day summit, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, brings together about 200 defense ministers and senior officials from 23 countries to discuss major security issues in the region.

Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, also will participate as a member of the U.S. delegation.

“We will be covering the full range of security issues,” Gates told reporters traveling with him yesterday.

The secretary is expected to reinforce the longstanding U.S. commitment to the region during his speech at tomorrow’s first plenary session on the United States and the balance of power in the region.

“I think the secretary’s message is going to be that there are a lot of shared threats in the region, … that the Gulf and the region is and remains a vital, strategic U.S. interest, and the U.S. will remain in the region,” a senior defense official said.

“We have been here for decades,” she told reporters on background. “You can pretty well count on us remaining here for decades to come.”

Gates told reporters he expects discussions about Iran and its activities to be part of the discussions. “Iranian behavior in a number of areas will clearly come up during the conversations here,” he said.

The secretary said he does not expect to have any direct interaction with Iranian officials during the sessions. It remains unclear whether Tehran will send delegates, U.S. officials said.

A senior military official told reporters many regional countries share a common concern about Iran, which they described as “the want-to-be big dog in this area.”

The countries’ wariness centers on “the shadow of Iran” as it expands its influence and “the increasingly outward, bellicose monologue that emanates from Tehran,” he said.

But a bigger problem is that Iran’s activities are consistently in line with its rhetoric, the official said. He referred to a series of incidents since he took command of CENTCOM, including Iran’s delivery of weapons and other support into Iraq and Afghanistan and the detention of British sailors earlier this year.

“Everything they’ve done publicly has been a problem,” he said.

“Their behavior has really been a problem, and to the extent that it destabilizes the region, which it does, then it becomes a problem for us,” Fallon agreed.

As Gates addresses Iran and other common threats during the Manama Dialogue, he’s expected to emphasize that current U.S. activities in Iraq don’t diminish U.S. commitments elsewhere in the region, a senior defense official said.

Similarly, the troop drawdown in Iraq doesn’t signal any lessening of U.S. interest or commitment to the region, but rather, an opportunity to form stronger ties, she said. “One shouldn’t view a diminution of troops in Iraq as anything other than a good-news story to the extent that the situation there allows that to develop.

“I think we will build upon that and say, ‘We have a shared interest here, a shared commercial interest, a shared security interest,” she said. “And the more we cooperate, the more the world will benefit.”

Fallon called the simple act of agreeing to work together “a terrific step” toward this goal. “And then, if you decide you want to work together, then figuring out how you can communicate with one another, that would be wonderful,” he said.

Closer cooperation is key to regional countries’ ability to collectively face common threats and promote common interests, Fallon said. “If they can find ways to work together, then we all benefit. They benefit, and after awhile, they are going to see the positives.”

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels with Gates
International Institute for Strategic Studies
Photo Essay: Gates Visits Iraq, Bahrain

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