RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has been traveling with Gates all week. She has this report from Abu Dhabi.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: At the very start of this trip, not long after we took off from Andrews Air Force Base, Secretary Gates wandered back to the press section of his plane. He started talking about what he hoped to achieve at his first stop - in Afghanistan - and he was asked about Iran's role in that country.
ROBERT GATES: Well, I think Iran is playing a double game in Afghanistan. They want to maintain a good relationship with the Afghan government; they also want to do everything they possibly can to hurt us.
LOUISE KELLY: So, how could Iran hurt the United States? Gates said Iran is providing money and other support to Taliban fighters, even as U.S. troops are doing battle with them. Then he dropped a thinly veiled threat.
GATES: They also understand that our reaction, should they get too aggressive in this, is not one they would want to think about.
LOUISE KELLY: And then came word that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was flying into Afghanistan the same day Gates was flying out - meeting with the same political players at some of the same venues. A kind of parallel universe of press conferences.
GATES: Well, it's clearly fodder for all conspiratorialists.
LOUISE KELLY: But Gates himself wasn't buying the conspiracy. He said the U.S. position is straightforward.
GATES: We think Afghanistan should have good relations with all of its neighbors, but we also want all of Afghanistan's neighbors to play an upfront game in dealing with the government of Afghanistan.
LOUISE KELLY: By this point in the week, the U.S. military may still have been in Afghanistan, but Secretary Gates had moved on, and Iran remains the constant topic as Gates visited two key Arab allies - first Saudi Arabia, and now the UAE. Over a late dinner, one night, with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and then talks last night with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, capital of the Emirates, Gates says he listened to an array of concerns about Iran.
GATES: I think it's rising Iranian interference and covert activities throughout the region, in addition to their missile and nuclear programs.
LOUISE KELLY: One fear is that a nuclear armed Iran might spark a regional nuclear arms race. The good news, Gates says, is that international support for new sanctions against Iran is growing.
GATES: I think there is an understanding that we have to go, we have to try this.
LOUISE KELLY: Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Abu Dhabi.
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