US urges Gulf states to support Iraq, counter Iran
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Gulf states needed to lend support to Iraq in the face of efforts by Iran to 'destabilize' the Baghdad government.
‘The embrace of Iraq by its fellow Gulf states will help contain the ambitions of Iran,' Gates told a gathering of defense chiefs from Gulf states.
He accused Iran of helping groups attacking Iraqi government targets as part of a broad campaign to influence the direction of its western neighbor.
‘Iran trains and supplies groups trying to destabilize the elected Iraqi government - more often than not through violence and attacks on Iraqi security forces, government installations and officials,' he said.
He said the United States was ready to help Gulf states counter possible threats from Iran but he said it was crucial for regional governments to engage with Iraq.
‘As I have said before, the Iraqi people want to be your partners,' he told the military officers.
‘Given the challenges in the Gulf, and the reality of Iran, you should wish to be theirs.'
The defense secretary acknowledged lingering bitterness among Arab states over the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but said it was in the interest of regional powers to support the Baghdad government.
‘I am aware that, in international affairs, old wounds do not heal easily,' Gates said.
‘However, if we look closely at Iraq's economic and political potential, it is clearly in the Gulf nations' strategic interest to support the new government and the people of Iraq.'
Gulf governments should consider allowing Iraq to join regional organizations, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, and help Baghdad by sharing intelligence and improving border control efforts, Gates said.
He said that while Washington has tried to open a dialogue with Teheran, it also was working to protect the security interests of allies in the region and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
‘Where necessary, we will take action by conducting counter-terrorism operations; and sharing intelligence for the interdiction of illegal shipments of weapons or materiel,' he said.
The conference of chiefs of defense included representatives from 11 countries, including Iraq.
Referring to the turmoil on the streets of Teheran, Gates said the dispute over the presidential election results should be settled ‘within Iran.'
‘Like you, we have watched the aftermath of the Iranian election with interest and concern,' Gates said.
‘While this is an issue that should be decided within Iran by the Iranian people, we firmly believe that the Iranian people deserve to have their voices heard free from violence and intimidation.'