Gates in UAE to seek support on Iran, regional defence

US Defence Secretary drawing on regional concern over Iran’s nuclear plans.
Gates in UAE to seek support on Iran, regional defence
By Bloomberg
Thu 11 Mar 2010 05:04 PM

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates touched down in the United Arab Emirates today in the second stop of a Persian Gulf mission to heighten pressure on Iran by enlisting other countries in the neighbourhood.Arriving from Riyadh, where he met with Saudi King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, Gates is drawing on regional concern over Iran’s nuclear programme and its support of militant groups to demonstrate to leaders in Tehran that they risk becoming even more isolated.

The visit, Gates’s first to the emirates since 2007, includes a meeting with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayyed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Gates aims to reassure the UAE of the US commitment to its security, and press its leaders to work more closely with others in the region to bolster air and missile defenses.The two countries last year signed an agreement to develop a civilian nuclear power program in the UAE. The country, along with Saudi Arabia, is one of the top purchasers of US weapons, and contributes special operations forces to the 43- nation coalition fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In 2008, the UAE agreed to buy $8.9 billion-worth of defense equipment and services, surpassing Saudi Arabia, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.In Saudi Arabia yesterday, Gates sought the kingdom’s support for tougher United Nations sanctions against Iran and urged U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf to strengthen their joint air and sea defenses

The US is trying to persuade China, which holds a UN Security Council veto, to back a resolution that may penalise the Iranian banking, shipping and insurance industries.Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s largest producer of crude oil, is China’s biggest supplier, and Gates’s mission follows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit last month to make a similar pitch.

The Saudis could “help us in our efforts at the UN so that we can get meaningful sanctions enacted against Iran,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters accompanying Gates.

The Saudis seemed to be supportive of the U.S. shift, according to an American defense official who briefed reporters on Gates’s meetings on condition of anonymity. Gates explained that the US prefers to target the Iranian leadership to the extent possible and minimize the impact on the Iranian people.Hamas, Hezbollah

The visit by Gates is intended to project the impression that partners in the region are closing ranks in opposition to Iran’s nuclear and missile development and its support of groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Gates aims to demonstrate that Iran’s military buildup in defiance of international demands won’t make the country more secure and may backfire as weapons purchases by U.S.-allied Persian Gulf nations grow, along with joint military training and exercises, according to an American defense official who briefed reporters before the trip.

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