Accessibility links

Defense Chief: US Open to Higher-Level Talks With Iran

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States is open to higher-level talks with Iran, but is warning against having any illusions about Tehran's intentions in the Persian Gulf region. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

In a speech to the American-Turkish Council in Washington, Secretary Gates said stability in the Gulf is a vital American interest and called on Iraq's neighbors to work toward ending the conflict.

"Iraq's neighbors will need to play a constructive role going forward, even if they haven't done so in the past, especially in encouraging political reconciliation and a reduction in violence within Iraq. This is certainly the case with Syria and Iran, who have not been helpful," he said. "The regional talks recently held in Baghdad were a good start toward improved cooperation, and our government is open to higher-level exchanges."

The defense secretary's remarks came as the U.S. Navy is conducting its largest demonstration of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The war games, which involve two aircraft carriers, hundreds of planes and thousands of troops, are taking place days after the United Nations Security Council imposed more sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program and Iran seized 15 British Navy personnel it says entered its waters illegally.

Britain and Iraq say the 14 men and one woman were operating in Iraqi waters when they were seized.

In his speech, Defense Secretary Gates said while he advocated U.S. dialogue with Iran before taking his job at the Pentagon, one has to be realistic about the regime in Tehran.

"We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime, or about their designs for their nuclear program, their intentions for Iraq, or their ambitions in the Gulf region," he said. "Still, at this time, Iran and all the actors in the region, friends and adversaries alike, are invested and involved to some degree or another in what is happening in Iraq."

Secretary Gates says the new surge of U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad is designed to provide basic security and a decent quality of life for the population.

Gates says there are encouraging signs of a drop in sectarian violence, but he says it is too early to call them trends.