- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

AMMAN, Jordan — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is urging U.S. allies in the Middle East this week to help bolster the fragile Iraqi government, which is under growing pressure to take over more of its own security from U.S. forces.

Mr. Gates is expected to meet with political and military leaders in Jordan, and then travel to Israel and Egypt. He said he last visited Jordan about 20 years ago.

“Jordan has been a strong ally of the United States, and I look forward to discussing with the king about how we can contribute to his efforts and how the Jordanians can contribute to ours,” Mr. Gates told reporters yesterday on the plane en route to Jordan. “Not just in Iraq, but Lebanon and the Israel-Palestinian peace process.”

The Bush administration would like to offset the Iranian influence in Iraq as well.

Previewing discussions Mr. Gates will have with regional leaders this week, a senior military official said the United States thinks that the “most important way to mitigate Iranian pressure” against the Iraqi government is for Middle East allies to support the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and involve it more directly in the political discourse of the region.

Asked about the progress in Iraq, a senior defense official traveling with Mr. Gates said that the pace of reconciliation there must move more quickly, despite the daily hurdles.

“We’ve gotten all the right signals from the Iraqi and Maliki governments,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “But they are going to have to quicken the pace. The patience of the Iraqi people as well as the American people is not indefinite.”

The official said Mr. Gates will be also looking for leaders in the region to maintain their stance that an Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable, as is Iran’s continued support to the Hezbollah guerrilla army in Lebanon. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is suspected of arming Hezbollah.

Several Middle East countries have said they plan to pursue nuclear energy, a development seen as aimed at countering Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Jordan’s King Abdullah II in January publicly announced for the first time that he wanted to develop Jordan’s nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes, and Washington indicated it had no objection to a peaceful nuclear program.

Key U.S. allies — Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — have expressed concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the growing Shi’ite Muslim influence in the region. They worry that the Shi’ite influence is boosting the hard-line Tehran regime and giving rise to more extremism, while jeopardizing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and threatening their own states.

Mr. Gates is also expected to ask the regional leaders what weapons and training they want from the United States, said the defense official.

Mr. Gates will urge countries such as Egypt and Israel to modernize their defense systems and “transition from the post-Soviet dependency on conventional weaponry to something more … related toward counterterrorism and the non-state actors that we are all working together against in the region.”

Weapons sales in the region are sensitive, because each country worries its own security could be threatened by U.S. sales to neighbors in the region.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide