ROME — There is still time to toughen sanctions to pressure Iran into complying with international demands that it halt its nuclear program that many believe is geared toward developing a nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here, Feb. 7.
"If the international community will stand together and bring pressure to bear on the Iranian government, I believe there is still time for sanctions and pressure to work," Gates said at a press event alongside Italy's minister of defense Ignazio La Russa.
"But we must all work together," he added.
Gates did not comment on specific proposed sanctions, but did say he supported those that target the government of Iran and not its people.
"We have seen what is going on inside Iran. I think the international community does not want the Iranian people to suffer more hardship than is absolutely necessary," he said.
This is Gates' first visit to Italy as U.S. defense secretary. During the two-day stop the secretary met with the prime minister as well as other senior officials. Besides Iran, the discussions ranged from disaster relief in Haiti to the United States' joint strike fighter program to the need to improve relations with Russia, Gates said.
Italy has promised another 1,000 troops for Afghanistan, the most of any ally since President Barack Obama's December announcement of a new strategy. Already they have about 3,200, mostly serving in Regional Command West, where Italy leads military operations. Italy's Carabinieri, its uniformed national police force that is also part of the military, is training the Afghanistan police force.
Gates said he is pleased with the additional commitments of troops by both NATO and non-NATO allies.
During his first year as defense secretary, only about 17,000 allied troops were posted in Afghanistan. Now, that number tops 50,000 in either troops on the ground or pledges.
"If you would have told me that we would have that kind of an increase two years ago I would have thought it a miracle," Gates said.
The job now is to relook at what types of troops are committed, he said.
"The key it seems to me is not necessarily more troops in addition to the 10,000 but rather to ensure that among those 10,000 there are as many trainers and mentors as we possibly can get," he said, referring to the number of troops allies have committed to send.
Gates has spent this trip, first in Turkey and now in Italy, asking his NATO counterparts to re-examine the composition of the troops they are sending.
The secretary said he is confident they will be able to meet the need for trainers and mentors in Afghanistan.
Italy hosts U.S. Army and Air forces. The United States has about 13,000 military personnel stationed in Italy. Naples is the home port for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet and Italy hosts the NATO Defense College in Rome.