Gates Cites Encouraging Trends Regarding Iran, China

MELBOURNE, Aus­tralia, Nov. 8, 2010 — The Unit­ed States is see­ing signs that sanc­tions against Iran by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty are start­ing to have an impact, and, while work­ing to strength­en its rela­tion­ship with Chi­na, will main­tain the right to nav­i­gate its naval ships in inter­na­tion­al waters, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.

U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil sanc­tions, plus even more rig­or­ous sanc­tions imposed by indi­vid­ual coun­ties, are “cre­at­ing pres­sure on the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment” and “get­ting their atten­tion,” Gates said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence fol­low­ing today’s Aus­tralia-Unit­ed States Min­is­te­r­i­al Con­sul­ta­tions.

“With­out get­ting into details, we see evi­dence that the sanc­tions are bit­ing more deeply than the Ira­ni­ans antic­i­pat­ed they would,” Gates told reporters in a round­table fol­low­ing the news con­fer­ence. “And that the actions indi­vid­ual coun­tries have tak­en, on top of the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion, have had con­sid­er­able effect in terms of aggra­vat­ing Iran’s trade and finan­cial oper­a­tions.”

Gates reit­er­at­ed Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s state­ment that “all options are on the table” to get Iran to aban­don its nuclear weapons pro­gram. “We are doing what we need to do to ensure that he has those options,” Gates said.

He expressed con­fi­dence, how­ev­er, that the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic approach now being tak­en shows promise.

Gates said much of today’s talks here focused on Chi­na, and “addi­tion­al ways in which we can engage Chi­na and work with Chi­na.”

Not­ing that he sees “some promis­ing signs from Chi­na in terms of mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions,” Gates said he has accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to vis­it Bei­jing ear­ly next year to encour­age more.

Secer­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton, who par­tic­i­pat­ed with Gates and Aus­tralian For­eign Min­is­ter Kevin Rudd and Defense Min­is­ter Stephen Smith at the sum­mit, said the Unit­ed States has “a very robust dia­log with Chi­na” and wel­comes its eco­nom­ic suc­cess and the pos­i­tive effects it is hav­ing on the Chi­nese peo­ple.

But as Chi­na becomes “more of a play­er in region­al and glob­al affairs,” she said, “we would expect that Chi­na will be a respon­si­ble play­er and will par­tic­i­pate in the inter­na­tion­al frame­work of rules that gov­ern the way nations behave.”

Gates, asked about ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­putes in the South Chi­na Sea, cit­ed the impor­tant work dur­ing last month’s Asso­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations min­is­te­r­i­al con­fer­ence in Hanoi and in oth­er forums by a vari­ety of coun­tries to estab­lish rules ensur­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and mar­itime secu­ri­ty with­in the con­text of inter­na­tion­al laws.

“It seems to us that that kind of mul­ti­lat­er­al engage­ment among all the coun­tries, includ­ing Chi­na, is the most pro­duc­tive way for­ward,” he said.

But in the mean­time, Gates said, the Unit­ed States won’t allow Chi­na to keep it from oper­at­ing in inter­na­tion­al waters.

“We believe and long have believed in the impor­tance of free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, and we intend to abide by inter­na­tion­al law,” Gates said. “We will assert free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion.”

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, empha­sized that no coun­try has the right to restrict another’s use of inter­na­tion­al waters.

“They aren’t owned by Chi­na. They aren’t owned by Korea,” Mullen said. “They are inter­na­tion­al waters in which … many oth­er coun­tries have sailed for­ev­er. My expec­ta­tion is we will con­tin­ue to do that.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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