Gates Calls for Continued International Pressure on Iran
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MANAMA, Bahrain, Dec. 8, 2007 Days after a new national intelligence estimate concluded that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons program but could restart it any time, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called on the international community to keep up its pressure on Tehran.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates gives an opening speech during the Manama Dialogue security conference sponsored by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Manama, Bahrain, Dec. 8, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Gates told delegates at the Manama Dialogue security conference here that the report underscores the need for the international community to continue pressuring Iran to “come clean” about its activities and abandon the program altogether.
The NIE, issued Dec. 3, says the U.S. intelligence community believes Iran halted its covert nuclear weapons program -- which it denied existed -- in the fall of 2003. The report cites international scrutiny and pressure as the probable reasons.
Gates warned about 200 delegates from 23 nations attending the annual regional security conference about “cherry-picking” the NIE’s findings rather than accepting “the full story” it gives.
“The report expresses with greater confidence than ever that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program – developed secretly, kept hidden for years, and in violation of its international obligations,” he said.
The NIE unveils ongoing activities, too, Gates said. “It reports that they do continue their nuclear enrichment program, an essential long-lead-time component of any nuclear weapons program. It states that they do have the mechanisms still in place to restart their program,” he said.
“And, the estimate is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could re-start its nuclear weapons program at any time – I would add, if it has not done so already.”
Gates pointed to Iran’s activities that defense officials report have left many of its neighbors feeling threatened. “Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or the cost in the blood of innocents,” Gates said.
Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command and part of the U.S. delegation here, told reporters yesterday Iran’s meddling – from supplying weapons to insurgents in Iran and Afghanistan to its seizure in March of 15 British sailors – is destabilizing to the United States as well as the Persian Gulf region
“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," he said. "Everything they've done publicly has been a problem."
Gates said during a question-and-answer session following his address he’s “not confident” high-level dialogue between the United States and Iran would do any good in light of Iran’s inflammatory foreign policy. “Iran has to take some steps” for such a dialogue to be meaningful, he said.
Iran had been scheduled to send a delegation to the Manama Dialogue, but cancelled at the last minute.
In the meantime, Gates pointed to the international community as the only barrier to Iran re-starting its nuclear weapons program.
He urged Gulf-region leaders to pull together to demand that Iran “come clean” about past activities, suspend enrichment and openly affirm it has no plans to develop nuclear weapons. He also argued for them to demand inspections to make sure Iran lives up to its commitments and can’t restart its nuclear weapons program at a moment’s notice, or “at the whim of its most militant leaders.”
Gates pressed for the international community to “continue – and intensify – our economic, financial and diplomatic pressures on Iran to suspend enrichment.” He urged leaders to take the “peaceful but effective measures necessary to bring a long-term change of policies in Tehran.”
Asked if the United States is planning a military confrontation with Iran, Gates emphasized that the U.S. focus is “100 percent diplomatic and economic.”
The focus now, the secretary said, is trying to get the Iranians to change policies and practices that “should be a matter of grave concern to every government in world.”
“We would like nothing better than for Iran to become a constructive player” in the region, he said.