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Gates Urges International Pressure on Iran

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is pushing the international community to pressure Iran into giving up its nuclear program.

On a four-day trip through the Middle East, Gates said the United States "can't wait years" for Iran to change its policies. He said more countries need to cooperate with United Nations sanctions and bring additional pressure on Iran.

Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled together this week on a rare, joint-lobbying trip. They urged Middle East allies — including Egypt and Saudi Arabia — to press on with financial sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. has accused Iran of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Shiite militias in Iraq, charges Tehran denies.

The Sunni-led governments of the Middle East are also wary of Shiite Iran's growing power, and Israel views the country as its principal enemy.

Gates said Arab leaders are unanimous in their concerns about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"There's not really room for bystanders here," he said.

Gates and Rice visited the Middle East to discuss a proposed military package, seen as a counterweight to Iran's rising influence in the region. The U.S. has agreed to sell advanced weaponry to Persian Gulf nations worth at least $20 billion and provide new 10-year military aid packages to Israel and Egypt.

Iran's president criticized the U.S. for its plan to increase weapons sales to several Arab countries and step up military aid to Israel, saying Washington is trying to impose its dominance on the Middle East.

"All U.S. efforts are for the creation of differences among our brothers in the region to impose its ideas and hegemony," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on his office's official Web site. "Americans feel their relations with regional (Mideast) countries are weakened, and under cover of this, the arms deal, they want to make relations warm."

Ahmadinejad also criticized U.S. support for Israel and Washington's efforts to promote Arab-Israeli peace.

"The U.S. plans to introduce Israel as a friend of the regional (Arab) countries," the Iranian leader said. "Instead, they want to portray the Iranian nation, brother and best friend of Arab nations, as their enemy."

Ahmadinejad called on Arab nations to spurn the U.S. weapons deal, arguing they should "spend the resources for progress and development of their countries."

From NPR and Associated Press reports