No grand bargain with Iran, says US defence secretary

May 5th, 2009 - 11:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Cairo, May 5 (DPA) US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, speaking to reporters here Tuesday, sought to reassure US allies in the Middle East over Washington’s overtures to Iran.
Fears among US allies in the region of a “grand bargain” between the US and Iran were “completely unrealistic”, Gates told reporters after meeting Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak in Cairo Tuesday.

The US secretary of defence said he and Mubarak had discussed Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gates said the US is urging Egypt and other Arab US allies to improve ties with Iraq as a check on Iranian influence in that country.

“Our goal is to continue working with our friends in the region. If we come to Iran with an open hand, it in no way affects our relationship with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or other friends in the region,” Gates said.

“There have been a few initial contacts, but there is no sustained dialogue between the US and Iran. Our friends in the region should be reassured that the US will be open and transparent” in its talks with Iran, he continued, adding that there would be “no surprises”.

Gates said he had seen previous overtures to Iran fail, and that “the response from Tehran to the open hand we have extended has not been very encouraging”.

“Obviously we want to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons programme. We’re also interested in stopping Iran’s destabilising efforts throughout the region,” he said.

Any dialogue with Iran would be taken “in cooperation with our allies in the region to counter Iran’s destabilising activities,” Gates said, in an apparent reference to Egyptian allegations that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had sought to establish a cell in Egypt to carry out attacks in the country and to smuggle weapons to the Gaza Strip.

Gates will fly to Saudi Arabia later Tuesday, where he is expected to repeat his reassurances on US overtures to Iran, and to call on the kingdom to help Pakistan combat Taliban militants.

“I think that the recent Taliban attacks that reached within 60 km of Islamabad were a wake-up call to many in Pakistan,” Gates said.

“Saudi Arabia clearly has a lot of influence throughout the region and a close relationship with Pakistan,” he said.

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