March 27, 2007 / 7:43 PM / 12 years ago

Pentagon chief warns against 'illusions' on Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday said the United States was open to high-level talks with Tehran, but warned against “illusions” about Iran’s government and its intentions.

“We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime or about their designs for their nuclear program, their intentions for Iraq or their ambitions in the Gulf region,” Gates said at a speech to the American-Turkish Council in Washington.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran are high and at risk of worsening with Iran’s capture and continued detention of 15 military personnel from Britain, America’s closest ally.

The United States has repeatedly accused Iran of fuelling Sunni-Shi’ite violence in Iraq by providing arms and other support to Shi’ite militias. The United States and others also say Iran’s nuclear energy program is being used as a cover to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.

Gates, who advocated U.S. dialogue with Iran before he took the Pentagon job in December, said talks this month in Baghdad that included U.S., Iranian and Syrian officials were “a good start” towards improving cooperation.

“Our government is open to high-level exchanges,” he said.

“But in dealing with a regime like Iran one has to be realistic. The American search for elusive Iranian moderates is a recurring and mostly fruitless theme since the (Iranian) revolution in 1979.”

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