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US Defense Chief Links Tehran to Arms in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he believes Iran's government is aware of the shipment of significant quantities of Iranian weapons and explosives to Taleban insurgents in Afghanistan. Gates spoke in Germany Wednesday. VOA's Al Pessin is traveling with Secretary Gates and filed this report from Ramstein Air Base.

Secretary Gates says he has seen new intelligence since his last, cautious, comments on this issue two weeks ago. He says the new reports make "pretty clear" that what he calls "fairly substantial" quantities of weapons and explosives are flowing from Iran to Taleban fighters in Afghanistan.

"I haven't seen any intelligence specifically to this effect, but I would say given the quantities that we're seeing, it is difficult to believe that it's associated with smuggling or the drug business, or that it's taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government," he said.

Secretary Gates' comments came after State Department officials issued somewhat contradictory remarks on the subject.

State Department Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told CNN there is what he called "irrefutable evidence" Iran's government is involved in shipping weapons to the Taleban. Later, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said the United States has evidence of Iranian arms flowing to Afghanistan but it does not have hard evidence of Iranian government involvement. The spokesman added that given Iran's past behavior it would be difficult to believe the government was not aware of such shipments.

Iran has denied shipping weapons to the Taleban.

In Germany, Secretary Gates said it is difficult to know why the Iranian government would help the Taleban, while also maintaining good relations with the Afghan government.

"Whether Iran is trying to play both sides of the street, hedge their bets, what their motives are, other than causing trouble for us, I don't know," he added.

Secretary Gates said he has seen no evidence that Iran's elite Quds Force is operating in Afghanistan, as the United States says it is in Iraq. And he also said he has not seen evidence from Afghanistan of the kind of Iranian-made high-powered roadside bombs that have taken a deadly toll on American forces in Iraq.

Secretary Gates made the comments on his way to Brussels for a NATO defense ministers meeting, where the situation in Afghanistan and the Iranian missile threat to Europe are expected to be major topics of discussion.