US Defence Secretary Robert Gates (left) held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as part of a regional tour aimed at reassuring Arab leaders over Washington's new openness toward Iran and Tehran's influence in Baghdad and beyond.
AFP - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was holding talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday on a regional tour aimed at reassuring Arab leaders over Washington's diplomatic approach to Iran.
The two men went into talks in Cairo after Gates said he was hoping to address anxiety in Arab capitals about the impact of a US bid for dialogue with Iran after three decades of severed ties.
"There's probably some concerns in the region that may draw an exaggerated sense of what's possible," he told reporters before arriving in Cairo.
US President Barack Obama has sought to open up diplomatic channels with arch-foe Iran in a bid to defuse tensions over its nuclear programme, but Gates said the White House had realistic expectations about what could be achieved.
"I think everybody in the administration from the president on down is pretty realistic and will be pretty tough-minded if we still encounter a closed fist (from Iran)," he said.
Gates held talks with his Egyptian counterpart Hussein Tantawi on Monday and was to head to Saudi Arabia, which has been especially concerned about Iran's role in the region, after meeting Mubarak.
With Sunni-led Arab countries concerned over Tehran's influence with the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq, Gates urged Arab states to make a greater effort to cultivate ties with Baghdad.
"I think if the Arab world is concerned about Iranian influence in Baghdad, then the way to deal with that is to have more Arab influence in Baghdad," he said.
Gates also said he would discuss Cairo's attempts to stem smuggling through tunnels on Egypt's border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Egypt, under pressure from Israel and the United States, has taken increasingly robust measures to crack down on the smuggling.
The Palestinians have used hundreds of tunnels to ferry food and other supplies into Gaza, which has been under a crippling blockade since June 2007, when the Islamists violently assumed power in the territory.
Israel says the tunnels are also used to smuggle rockets and other weapons into the densely-populated enclave.
During his visit to Riyadh, Gates said he expected to discuss the possible transfer of Yemeni detainees from the US-run "war on terror" prison at Guantanamo Bay.
"The Saudis have perhaps the most successful repatriation, reeducation programme of any country at this point and so clearly there will be an interest in pursuing that with them," he said.
US officials have been concerned Yemen is unable to provide sufficient security for the returning detainees.
Yemenis account for nearly 100 of the remaining 240 inmates at the controversial detention camp of Guantanamo, which Obama has promised to close by early next year.
Date created : 2009-05-05