Gates Asks Saudis for Help in Pakistan

Posted in United States , Broader Middle East | 08-May-09 | Author: Thom Shanker| Source: New York Times (registration required)

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates with Charge d' Affaires David Rundell, second left, and Ibrahim Al-Malik, Director of Saudi Arabia's Armed Forces Public Affairs, after arriving in Riyadh on Tuesday.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - As the Obama administration prepares for talks this week with senior leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates flew to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to seek help in pushing back Taliban advances in Pakistan that, he said, threaten the very existence of the government in Islamabad.

Mr. Gates said Saudi Arabia "clearly has a lot of influence throughout the region," and he cited its "long-standing and close relationship with Pakistan."

The defense secretary called on Pakistan's allies across the region to assist in countering insurgent successes that represent a growing danger to Pakistan, and Mr. Gates said a goal of this week's meetings with Afghan and Pakistani leaders in Washington would be to reach consensus on the nature of the threat.

In the past, the Pakistani government and its military have been far more focused on their traditional adversary, India, than on the domestic insurgency.

As Mr. Gates concluded talks in Egypt earlier Tuesday, the shadow of Iran's regional ambitions prompted the defense secretary to declare that efforts by the Obama administration to seek better ties with Tehran would not jeopardize its relations with allies in the region.

He stressed that historic American partners in the Middle East would be kept fully informed of Washington's diplomatic efforts toward Iran. The Obama administration was undertaking that effort to reach out to Iran "with its eyes wide open," he said.

"If we encounter a closed fist when we extend our open hand, then we will react accordingly," Mr. Gates said. "Concerns out here of some kind of a ‘grand bargain' developed in secret are completely unrealistic and, I would say, are not going to happen."