September 28, 2009 / 3:25 AM / 8 years ago

Gates favors diplomacy not military action on Iran

3 Min Read

<p>U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) looks over at Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington September 3, 2009.Jim Young</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said diplomacy and sanctions rather than military action are the way to persuade Iran to change its nuclear program as divisions emerge in the Iranian leadership.

Iran's nuclear dispute with the West intensified last week after Tehran disclosed that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant.

"While you don't take options off the table, I think there's still room left for diplomacy," Gates said on CNN's Sunday program "State of the Union."

The Pentagon chief said military force would only gain time but not convince Iranians to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons.

He said the secrecy with which Iran had been building the underground nuclear facility behind the back of the international community put Tehran in a weak position.

"The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers, " Gates said.

"There obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. I think we have the time to make that work."

Iran, which says its nuclear program is for electricity generation and not weapons production, will meet the United States and five other powers in Geneva for talks on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran must present "convincing evidence" at that meeting.

"We are going to put them to the test on October 1," Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation." "They can open their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for."

Gates said the secrecy with which Iran had been building the underground nuclear facility behind the back of the international community put Tehran in a weak position.

"The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers," Gates said. "There obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. I think we have the time to make that work."

Gates mentioned possible new sanctions on banking and equipment and technology for its oil and gas industry.

"There are a variety of options still available," Gates said, adding that possible new targets for Iranian sanctions made up a "pretty rich list to pick from."

Sanctions would prove more effective now that "deep fissures" have emerged in Iran since the disputed elections, he said. "We are seeing some divisions in the Iranian leadership and society that we have not seen in the 30 years of the Iranian revolution."

Gates said sanctions would prove more effective after "deep fissures" emerged in Iran since disputed elections in June.

"We are seeing some divisions in the Iranian leadership and society that we have not seen in the 30 years of the Iranian revolution," Gates said.

Both interviews were taped before Iran test-fired missiles on Sunday to show it is prepared to head off military threats.

Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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