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Gates: Persian Gulf countries must coordinate to counter Iranian threat

    MANAMA, Bahrain — Defense Secretary Robert Gates planned to tell Gulf countries Saturday they must work together to help the U.S. counter Iranian threats, including Tehran’s ballistic missiles and meddling in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States still wants new sanctions.
    Gates, closing out a weeklong trip to the region, planned in his keynote speech at an international security conference in Manama to urge Gulf allies to communicate and cooperate more as part of a broader strategy for containing Iranian influence, U.S. officials traveling with Gates said Friday.
    Gates’ speech was to follow Rice’s assertions Friday in Brussels, Belgium, that Washington would continue along a two-track strategy, pressing for a new set of sanctions against Iran while holding talks to convince Tehran to come clean about its nuclear program.
    But Russia ignored her calls to punish Iran.
    Despite continued strong support from NATO allies in the wake of a new U.S. intelligence report that concludes Iran actually stopped atomic weapons development in 2003, Rice was unable to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the urgency of fresh sanctions.
    Rice said her talks with Lavrov were ‘‘an extension of other conversations we have had,’’ suggesting the two didn’t see eye to eye.
    At the Pentagon, senior military officers told reporters that the revelation by U.S. intelligence that it believes Iran scrapped its nuclear weapons design effort in 2003 has not triggered new instructions by the Bush administration to speed up or slow down any Iran crisis planning.
    ‘‘There has been no course correction — slowdown, speedup — given to us inside the Joint Staff’’ for military crisis planning, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
    Attending the Bahrain security conference with Gates were Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Adm. William J. Fallon, chief of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East. Fallon spoke to reporters about Iran.
    ‘‘Their behavior has really been a problem, and to the extent that it destabilizes the region, which it does, then it becomes a problem for us,’’ Fallon said.
    Defense officials have said that Iran’s delivery of weapons and other support into Iraq and Afghanistan and the detention of British sailors earlier this year are key activities that threaten security in the region.
    And Gulf country leaders, Fallon said, have told him that their concern ‘‘is more the pressure that they feel from Iran as they want to dominate this area.’’
    A senior defense official traveling with Gates said the secretary planned to tell the Bahrain conference that Gulf countries have shared commercial and security interests, and that the more they cooperate the more the world will benefit. One key area would be shared efforts in an early warning system because of the ballistic missile threats from Iran.
    The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues.
    A U.S. Navy commander, meanwhile, said that Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital commercial waterway at the tip of the Gulf, are the greatest concern for maritime security in the region.
    Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said that while the likelihood of that happening is low, concerns about Iran consume the region — and his day.
    ‘‘I wake up thinking about Iran, I go to bed thinking about Iran,’’ Cosgriff told reporters.
    He added, ‘‘I know of no threat that would cause them to want to close ... the Strait of Hormuz. To me it’s coercive, it’s intended to intimidate not only the regional nations — ’look at us we can damage your prosperity’— but it’s intended to intimidate the global market. I just don’t think that’s responsible behavior.’’
    His comments came as Iranian officials decided at the last minute not to attend the Bahrain conference.
    The U.S. and its allies want Iran to obey a U.S. Security Council demand that it halt its uranium enrichment program, which they believe could be used for nuclear bombs. But Iran insists it is only using the program to generate electricity.
    Complicating matters is the U.S. intelligence report, released on Monday, that says Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has shown no sign of resuming it.
    ———
    Associated Press reporters Matthew Lee and Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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