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Gates: Iran’s Nuclear Program Puts Middle East in Danger

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

PARIS, Feb. 8, 2010 – Iran’s continuing nuclear development program only serves to put the Middle East in danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and French Defense Minister Hervé Morin conduct a joint press conference in Paris, Feb. 8, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
  

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But, Gates pushed for stronger diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community rather than calling for military conflict.

“I think that everybody’s interest is in seeing this issue resolve without resorting to conflict. But it makes it all the more important,” he said. “We have to face the reality that if Iran continues and develops nuclear weapons it almost certainly will provoke proliferation in the Middle East. That’s a huge danger.”

Gates’ comments came at a press conference alongside France’s Minister of Defense Hervé Morin. Gates flew here today to meet with the ministers of defense and foreign affairs as well as France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, who he will meet for the first time.

Morin backed Gates’ comments on Iran, saying that France supports putting international pressure on Iran to stop its current nuclear program.

Since 2006, France has repeatedly publicly stressed the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and has worked with the United States and other members of the P5+1 group -- China, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany -- to demand that Iran end its current nuclear program, according to the U.S. State Department.

Gates said that if all international partners would agree on a plan, then sanctions could still work.

“The key is persuading Iranian leaders that their long-term best interests are best served by not having nuclear weapons, as opposed to having them,” Gates said. “My hope is that we will then be able to keep this in economic and diplomatic channels.

“The point of the pressure is to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table and to resolve this issue in a way that prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Besides Iran, Gates said he talked about France’s military support in Afghanistan. The secretary called France “close partners.” Gates said that during the past few years the diplomatic relationship with France has “significantly” expanded.

The renewed relationship is in part due to the realization by both of the governments that “security challenges of the 21st century are too large and too complex to be dealt with by any single nation acting alone,” he said.

Gates praised France’s current efforts in Afghanistan, calling the mission “vitally important to the security of the whole world.”

And he said that NATO and non-NATO allies must act quickly to capitalize on momentum noted by the senior commander on the ground this year. This will happen only if the allies provide Afghanistan with mentors and trainers to bolster their force to take over the security mission.

“We must act swiftly to increase the impact of the forces now headed to the theater for this pivotal year,” Gates said.

The secretary said there has been a renewed energy among NATO and non-NATO partners with respect to the mission in Afghanistan. As a result, the number of troops committed to the fight by allies has almost tripled since Gates took office.

France has increased their forces by nearly half since the start of the war and has taken on new training responsibilities, fielding six operational and mentoring teams and offering six more. France has about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan.

Among NATO members, France is second only to the United States in terms of total troops deployed abroad. France is one of NATO's top five troop contributors.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates walks with French Defense Minister Hervé Morin to a meeting in Paris, Feb. 8, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen  
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