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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

US Defends Gulf Buildup, Calls Iran Actions 'Very Negative'

Brussels (AFP): Calling Iran's actions in the Middle East "very negative, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday a US military buildup in the Gulf is intended to show Washington's long-term commitment to the region. "We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time," he told reporters after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels.

President George W. Bush has ordered a second US aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf and announced the deployment of a Patriot missile defense battalion to the region to protect allies against potential missile strikes.

Asked whether the buildup was aimed at Iran and signaled a more confrontational stance with its Islamic regime, Gates said the United States was simply reaffirming the strategic importance of the Gulf region.

Noting that he had called for diplomatic engagement with Iran in 1994, he said that since then Iran has gone from doing some constructive things in Iraq and Afghanistan to a wholly negative position.

"None of those conditions apply any longer," he said. "The Iranians believe that they are in a position to press us in many ways. They are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point."

"In addition they have supported Hezbollah's efforts to create a new conflict in Lebanon, and so the Iranians are acting in a very negative way in many respects," he said.

"My view is when the Iranians are prepared to play a constructive role in dealing with many of these problems, then there might be opportunities for engagement," he said.

Gates also discussed Iraq and Afghanistan with the NATO chief.
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