Press TV - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signaled a rift in the Obama administration by opposing the president's diplomatic overtures to Iran.
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday", Secretary Gates said he believed Iran was more likely to be persuaded by economic sanctions rather than diplomacy to halt its nuclear activities.
With enough pressure placed on Iran, diplomacy might provide "an open door" for the Iranian government to choose to change its nuclear plans, the Pentagon chief explained.
Iran says the only objective of its program is to make use of the civilian applications of nuclear technology. The US, however, accuses the country of having military intentions in its pursuit.
Gates' remarks come in contradiction with President Barack Obama's diplomatic overtures to Iran.
Acknowledging the strain in Tehran-Washington relations, Obama sent a "special message to the people and government of Iran" on the occasion of the Persian New Year and extended an olive branch.
"For nearly three decades relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together," President Obama said. "We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
In response to the move which was welcomed around the globe, Iran said the US must demonstrate its change in practice before any reconciliation can take place.
"Iran loathes the languages of threats and incentives. But we have no experience with the new president and the new US administration. Thus, we will reserve judgment and will base it on their actions," Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in response to Obama.
"If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude," the Leader reaffirmed.
The United States and Iran severed diplomatic ties in the aftermath of the 1980 American embassy takeover in Tehran.
Defense Secretary Gates, meanwhile, told Fox News that the prospects of reconciliation through diplomacy alone were slim.
"I think frankly, from my perspective, the opportunity for success is probably more in economic sanctions in both places (Iran and North Korea) than it is in diplomacy," he said.
Gates, who was former President George W. Bush's last defense chief, added that Iran is nowhere close to obtaining a nuclear weapon - contrary to Israeli estimates on Iran's nuclear drive.
He said Tehran lacks the capability at this point to enrich enough uranium to the levels needed for a weapon, the Associated Press reported.
According to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency figures, Iran has produced nearly 1,010 kilograms of low enriched uranium (LEU) -- a level "less than 5 percent."
Uranium, the fuel for a nuclear power plant, can serve military purposes if enriched to high levels of above 90 percent.
Tehran is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, according to the UN nuclear watchdog, has not opted to violate the treaty.
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