U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he hopes strong international sanctions on Iran will forestall the need for a military strike designed to end the country's chances of developing a nuclear weapon. Gates spoke in Paris, where he and his French counterpart Herve Morin agreed it is time for sanctions after months of diplomatic overtures from the West have not had any impact on Iranian leaders.
Secretary Gates is working with allies to develop an effective sanctions regime targeting Iran's government, while having minimal impact on its people. U.S. officials say they hope to bring a resolution to the U.N. Security Council this month, while France holds the rotating presidency.
Gates says Iran has not responded constructively to President Barack Obama's unprecedented and long effort to start a dialogue on its nuclear program. But asked whether he is concerned Israel might launch an air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities now that the Iranian president has ordered the resumption of uranium enrichment, the secretary said he believes there is still a chance for sanctions and other forms of diplomatic pressure to work.
"Everybody's interest is in seeing this issue resolved without a resort to conflict," he said. "The key is persuading the Iranian leaders that their long-term best interests are best served by not having nuclear weapons, as opposed to having them. And so I think that an approach along these lines, as long as the international community is seen pressing vigorously to resolve this problem, my hope is we will then be able to keep this in economic and diplomatic channels."
French Defense Minister Herve Morin agreed. He said it is clear nothing has changed in Iranian nuclear policy, and so it is time to begin talking about new economic sanctions.
The two defense ministers also discussed Afghanistan, with both defending France's role, even though it is adding only 80 trainers in the current round of NATO commitments. They noted France made more significant increases before last week's defense ministers' meeting in Istanbul. The two men also welcomed improvements in U.S.-French defense relations in recent years, including France's return to NATO's military command.
But they did not agree on everything. France is considering selling a large naval assault vessel to Russia. Secretary Gates declined to comment in detail, saying only they had had "a good and thorough exchange of views" on the subject. Minister Morin defended the plan, saying the West's old nemesis, Russia, has "changed deeply" in the past 20 years, and it is time to nurture a new relationship with it.