Iran tops agenda as Gates arrives in Middle East

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AMMAN: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Jordan on Monday at the start of a three-nation Middle East tour officials said was aimed at confronting Iran s influence in the region and pledging support for the government of Iraq.

Jordan has always been an ally of the United States, Gates told reporters on the plane ahead of landing in Amman. The Jordanians have for a long time been a very constructive influence and I look forward to continuing that.

He said he looked forward to speaking with Jordan s King Abdullah II about how we can contribute to his [peace] efforts and how the Jordanians can contribute to ours, not just in Iraq but in Lebanon and the Palestinian peace process.

A senior defense official said Gates will talk about recent events with the king and that Iran in particular will be on the agenda.

Throughout the trip the defense secretary will seek support for the Gulf Security Dialogue, an umbrella framework for talks between the United States and the Gulf states. The Security Dialogue focuses on common concerns about Persian hegemony in the region … and involvement of Shia political movements in some countries, and how to mitigate that, and how to respond to that collectively, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The best way to confront Iran is to confront Iranian behavior in Iraq the official said. The trip will focus on how we can work with strategic allies in the region to achieve that goal.

Jordan has a military field hospital in Iraq staffed by about 200 soldiers and another in Afghanistan with a staff of about 370 soldiers.

There are some training camps for Iraqi air force personnel and Iraqi police in Jordan. To date some 45,000 Iraqi police have received training in Jordan, the US official said.

Gates will go on to meet top military officials in Jordan, Egypt and Israel to reassure the three countries of Washington s continued support, US officials said.

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