U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted Friday that the international community will impose stronger economic sanctions on Iran unless its leaders change their policy and live up to agreements related to their nuclear program. Gates spoke to U.S. troops at Forward Operating Base Warrior, near Kirkuk, northern Iraq.
During a wide-ranging 45-minute town hall-style meeting with several hundred U.S. troops, Secretary Gates was asked whether there is any plan for military action against Iran. He said he never takes any option off the table, but that such a move would only delay Iran's nuclear weapons development by a few years.
Rather, he said the international community is likely to increase sanctions.
"I think that you're going to see some significant additional sanctions imposed by the international community, assuming that the Iranians don't change course and agree to do the things they signed up to do at the beginning of October," he said.
Gates said Iran's defiance has convinced nations involved in the issue, including Russia and China, that stronger action is warranted.
"At the end of the day, the way to avoid a nuclear-armed Iran is to put together a package of incentives and disincentives that persuade the Iranian government that they would actually be less secure with nuclear weapons than if they had them," he said.
[Friday European Union leaders called for additional actions to be taken against Iran for its refusal to halt its nuclear activities.
EU leaders issued a statement in Brussels saying "Iran's persistent failure to meet its international obligations and Iran's apparent lack of interest in pursuing negotiations require a clear response."]
Secretary Gates said if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it would likely spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, creating more dangers for Iran than it has now. He also said that under stronger sanctions, the Iranian "people would suffer enormously," and he indicated Iranian leaders might want to avoid that as they are facing what he called "a lot more political turmoil" since the recent election.
Gates said if Iran does develop nuclear weapons the consequences would be "enormous." But he said there is still time to try to avoid that through sanctions and diplomacy. He called Iran "one of the most complex national security problems" the United States has faced in his more than 40 years in government.