U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on Persian Gulf States and other Middle Eastern powers Tuesday to do more to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, and to work together to counter Iranian influence. Gates spoke in Washington to a gathering of top military officers from the region.
Secretary Gates told the military officers that the United States will continue to stand by its allies in the Middle East, even as it reaches out to Iran. He accused Iran of "regional meddling," which he said "has already cost far too many lives." And he said Iran's future "must not include a nuclear weapon" or further "destabilizing activities."
But Gates also sought to reassure the military leaders from 11 Middle Eastern nations of continued U.S. support, particularly if Iran continues its current policies.
"Even as the U.S. engages with Iran, we will move to strengthen nonproliferation norms and work with allies and partners to see that their fundamental security interests are protected," said Robert Gates. "Where necessary, we will take action by conducting counter-terrorism operations and sharing intelligence for the interdiction of illegal shipments of weapons or materiel."
Secretary Gates said groups that Iran supports, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, threaten the stability of Arab states as well as their main target, Israel. He also accused Iran of continuing to train and supply violent "groups trying to destabilize" Iraq's elected government.
Gates called on countries of the Persian Gulf and other regional powers - like Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon - to do more to support stability in Iraq.
"The embrace of Iraq by its fellow Gulf states will help contain the ambitions of Iran," he said. "As I have said before, the Iraqi people want to be your partners. Given the challenges in the Gulf and the reality of Iran, you should wish to be theirs."
Secretary Gates called for more intelligence-sharing and better border control to help the Iraqi government defeat the various insurgencies it faces.
He urged Middle Eastern leaders to also look beyond their region - to Afghanistan and Pakistan - where, he said, instability could also affect them, and where many of the countries represented at the meeting have already provided help.
"We're grateful for that assistance, but urge you to do more, to improve Afghan governance, reconstruction, economic development and security capacity," said Gates. "The application of more resources, improved cooperation, a better integrated civil, military and diplomatic strategy, and the benefit of lessons learned both in [the] country and in Iraq, present a historic but fleeting opportunity to turn the situation in Afghanistan around. I hope you will help us take that opportunity."
Secretary Gates spoke in an ornate hotel ballroom to the chiefs of defense forces and other senior officers arrayed in their various dress uniforms, insignia and medals. The gathering was organized by U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations throughout the region, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The host was the Central Command commander, General David Petraeus.