U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Iran was trying to seize the opportunity of Bahrain's unrest by spreading its influence there.
In a special interview with Al Arabiya, during his visit to Egypt, Gates pointed out to the contradiction between the Iranian government's policy of suppressing its own people and the role it plays in the developments taking place in the Arab world.
The top U.S. official said that Iran probably did not have any role in igniting Bahrain's protests – as he had previously informed Bahrain's King and Crown Prince – but he there was no doubt that Tehran started to make use of the events in Bahrain later by spreading its influence there.
Gates underlined that Iran was trying complicate things for the Arab states and in the meantime it suppresses its own people, which shows a huge contradiction.
In another interview during a visit to Israel, Gates said that Syria should follow the example of Egypt, where the army held fire and helped the people overthrow the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has faced nearly a week of protests, inspired by uprisings against authoritarian rulers across the Arab world.
"I would say that what the Syrian government is confronting is in fact the same challenge that faces so many governments across the region, and that is the unmet political and economic grievances of their people," Gates said during a visit to Israel.
"Some of them are dealing with it better than others. I've just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate and in fact empowered a revolution. The Syrians might take a lesson from that," he told reporters.
Assad, a close ally of Iran, key player in neighboring Lebanon and supporter of anti-Israel fighters, had dismissed rising reform calls in the country of 20 million people run by the Baath Party since a 1963 coup.
The Egyptian military, which receives U.S. defense aid, has run a caretaker government in Cairo since Mubarak was forced to step down on Feb. 11 following mass demonstrations against his three-decade rule.
Gates cited Syria, Libya and Iran as examples of "authoritarian regimes (that) have suppressed their people and have been willing to use violence against them".
"And so I think that what we see is the opening to the future that's occurring in virtually all of these countries," said Gates, whose visit to the region includes stops in Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
(Compiled and translated from Arabic by Abeer Tayel)