MANAMA, Bahrain - Defense Secretary Robert Gates planned to tell Gulf countries today that they must work together to help the United States counter Iranian threats, including Tehran's ballistic missiles and meddling in Iraq.
Gates, ending a weeklong trip to the region, intended in his keynote speech at an international security conference in Manama to urge Gulf allies to cooperate more as part of a broader strategy for containing Iranian influence, according to U.S. officials traveling with Gates.
Late yesterday, Iran decided not to attend the conference, organizers said.
The apparent snub comes amid continuing hostility between the two powers despite recent U.S. claims that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program.
Gates' speech is to follow Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's assertions yesterday in Brussels, Belgium, that Washington would continue along a two-track strategy, pressing for new sanctions against Iran while holding talks to try to persuade Tehran to come clean about the status of its nuclear program.
But Russia ignored her calls to punish Iran.
Despite continued strong support from NATO allies in the aftermath of a new U.S. intelligence report that concludes Iran actually stopped developing atomic weapons in 2003, Rice could not convince Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of the urgency of fresh sanctions.
Rice said her talks with Lavrov were "an extension of other conversations we have had," suggesting they didn't see eye to eye on the issue.
White House officials maintained an optimistic tone.
Based on contacts with Russia, China and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council since the release Monday of the new intelligence estimate on Iran, "we are still committed to Iran stopping its enrichment," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "And we will eventually get a third U.N. Security Council resolution."
Bush spoke to Russian President Vladmir Putin on Tuesday and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday.
Vice President Cheney, speaking in Kansas City to members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, "In the case of Iran, we're dealing with a country that is still enriching uranium and remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism, and that is a cause of great concern to the United States."
Cheney said others in the international community, including Russia, share that concern.
At the Pentagon, senior military officers told reporters the U.S. intelligence revelation 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.
Defense officials have said 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.
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 the more they cooperate the more the world will benefit.