Gates says U.S. wants diplomacy to solve Iran disputes

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks to reporters aboard his plane enroute to Moscow March 16, 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

MUSCAT (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates reaffirmed to the leader of Oman on Saturday that Washington wanted to resolve its disputes with Iran diplomatically, a senior U.S. defense official said.

Governments in the Gulf are concerned that tensions between the United States and Iran could lead to a military conflict.

But Gates told Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said that “although we keep all options open with regards to Iran, we remain committed to a diplomatic solution”, the official told reporters on the Pentagon chief’s flight back to Washington.

The United States is at loggerheads with Tehran over a range of issues including Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. accusations that Iran is destabilizing Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Oman is a U.S. ally in the Gulf region and the official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said both countries were concerned about Iran’s activities.

But he also acknowledged they had differences over how to deal with Iran, with Oman opposed to sanctions against Tehran.

“We have a different view towards the effectiveness of sanctions,” the official said.

Oman, a country of some three million people, maintains cordial relations with its larger neighbor across the Gulf. Senior officials from the two countries hold regular talks.

Sultan Qaboos has ruled Oman since 1970 and Gates praised him as “a good friend” of the United States when he flew in for the talks on Friday.

Reporting by Andrew Gray; Editing by Caroline Drees