U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States will keep its allies in the Middle East informed as it pursues the possibility of improved relations with Iran, and discounted concerns in the region about a U.S.-Iran deal that could hurt the interests of longstanding American friends such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Secretary Gates spoke in Cairo after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Secretary Gates said there are some "exaggerated concerns" in the region that a so-called "grand bargain" with Iran will be negotiated in secret and then sprung on the region without warning. He called the prospect of that "very remote" and "highly unlikely."
"What is important for our friends and partners here in the Middle East to be assured of is that the United States will be very open and transparent about these contacts, and we will keep our friends informed of what is going on so that nobody gets surprised," he said.
The secretary said any progress toward improving U.S.-Iran relations will not only be open, but will likely develop slowly.
"Frankly, some of the first things that have happened subsequent to his extension of that open arm, open hand, have not been very encouraging, in terms of statements coming out of Tehran," he said. "We're not willing to pull the hand back yet, because we think there's still some opportunity, but I think concerns out here of some kind of a grand bargain are completely unrealistic."
Some analysts have suggested that the Obama administration move to dramatically change the nature of the U.S.-Iran relationship through a so-called "grand bargain" by, for example, making some concessions on regional security issues in return for an end to Iran's nuclear program and its interference in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary Gates indicated that will not happen.
"The focus of that dialogue is on Iran's behavior and uppermost in our minds is taking the measures necessary, with our partners in the region, to maintain their security and their stability, in particular against Iranian subversive activities," said Gates.
That is a major theme of Secretary Gates' visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia this week. He says it is important for the United States to try to settle its differences with Iran, as President Obama has offered to do. But the secretary also said senior officials are aware that past efforts have failed, and he said it is not clear whether the view in Tehran has changed. He said "all options are available" if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail.
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