U.S. still open on Iran, Gates says

Robert Gates, center, walks with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Tantawi, in Cairo on Tuesday.
Though discouraged by Iran’s moves since the Obama administration extended its "open hand," the United States is "not willing to pull the hand back yet," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

Gates is currently on a trip to the Middle East in which he is seeking to ease allies’ concerns about U.S. talks with Iran. As he left Egypt on Tuesday for his second stop, Saudi Arabia, Gates played down any expectations of reconciliation between the United States and Iran. Gates said he communicated to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he doesn’t know “what might be possible” in terms of Washington deepening ties with Tehran. “There was some concern in the region that there would be some grand bargain that would be sprung on them,” Gates said. “That kind of prospect is very remote, and highly unlikely.” Gates said he promised Mubarak that the United States will keep its allies in the Middle East fully informed and that there would be no surprises in terms of a change in U.S.-Iranian relations. “There has been no dialogue yet,” Gates said. “There’s been a few initial contacts, but no sustained dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. Dialogue, if it happens at all, will happen slowly.”

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In Saudi Arabia, Gates is expected to talk about the role the Saudis can play in Pakistan. “The Saudis have a lot of influence, and a long-standing relationship with Pakistan,” Gates said. “We are doing what we can to deal with the emerging threat in Pakistan, and the Saudis can play a constructive role.” The defense secretary has said the talks in Saudi Arabia also could touch on Iraq and the concern some Arab states have about Iran’s influence there. He said he will encourage more Gulf states to reach out to Iraq and become “a counterbalance.” Gates said he also plans to speak with the Saudis about repatriating some Yemeni detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, through Saudi rehabilitation centers.