US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, seeking to soothe Mideast allies worried about Teheran's reach, said Sunday that efforts to bolster US relations with Iran may still ultimately face what he called "a closed fist."
Gates was flying to Egypt, the first stop on a Mideast tour that continues in Saudi Arabia. He said part of his mission will be to assure Saudis that any US outreach to Iran aims to increase security throughout the region.
Building diplomacy with Iran "will not be at the expense of our long-term relationships with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that have been our partners and friends for decades," Gates told reporters aboard a military jet headed to Cairo.
"There's probably some concerns in the region that may draw on an exaggerated sense of what's possible," Gates said. "And I just think it's important to reassure our friends and allies in the region that while we're willing to reach out to the Iranians, as the president said, with an open hand, I think everybody in the administration, from the president on down, is pretty realistic and will be pretty tough-minded if we still encounter a closed fist."
Gates will arrive in Cairo on Monday and will be in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Tuesday.