Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:52 pm (KSA) 16:52 pm (GMT)

Gates warns Gulf States on Iran threat

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Saturday urged Iran's Gulf neighbors to cooperate more closely in their defense activities to counter Tehran's policies and specifically consider a joint early warning system to detect missile launches. That, he said, could deter Iran from pursuing development of such weapons.

Gates further called for a regional "air and missile defense umbrella" to protect Gulf States against the threat missile attack by Iran.

"Iran’s policy still poses a threat to the Gulf States," Gates told AlArabiya TV, adding Washington would support its allies in the area militarily.

Despite a U.S. intelligence assessment that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Gates insisted the Islamic Republic poses a threat to the United States and the Middle East.

"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents -- Christians, Jews and Muslims alike," Gates said, in a speech to the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.

"There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing."

The Pentagon chief argued Iran still has the capability to restart its weapons program and continues to enrich uranium, an essential part of atomic weapons development.

He also accused Iran of actively supporting insurgents in
Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Islamist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and that its missile program poses a wider threat throughout the region.

Gates also argued that the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program did not rule out Tehran restarting its pursuit of atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear program has only peaceful civilian aims.

"The Estimate is explicit that Iran is keeping its options open and could re-start its nuclear weapons program at any time -- I would add, if it has not done so already," the former CIA director told the conference.

"Although the Estimate does not say so, there are no impediments to Iran's re-starting its nuclear weapons program -- none, that is, but the international community."

Iran denies U.S. charges that it has armed, trained and funded Shiite militias in Iraq, blaming the violence in Iraq on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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