U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he wants Saudi Arabia to help forge a political consensus in Pakistan that it must deal with the threat from the Taliban, al-Qaida and related militant groups. The secretary spoke to reporters on his aircraft, while on his way to Cairo and Riyadh, telling them, "The Saudis, in particular, have considerable influence in Pakistan."
American officials have been working for months to convince Pakistani officials to shift their focus from the threat they perceive from India to what they see as the more immediate and dangerous threat from militants inside Pakistan. And, they say they have made some progress.
Still, as he began this trip to the Middle East late Sunday, Secretary Gates said he believes Saudi leaders can help move that process even further along. He said, "I think whatever they can do to help bring the Pakistanis together in a broader sense to deal with the challenge to the government in Islamabad, obviously would be welcome."
The secretary says he also wants to strengthen the U.S. defense relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of which he has visited several times when he worked for previous American administrations.