Gates, Iranian MP to attend security meeting in Bahrain Print Story
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and an Iranian politician are among people from 25 countries scheduled to take part in a conference on security which opened in Bahrain on Friday, organisers said. Skip - related content
Gates, who will retain his post when president-elect Barack Obama takes over the White House, will attend the Manama Dialogue after visiting Afghanistan on Thursday. Iran will be represented by Kazem Jalali, chairman of the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs committee, according to John Chipman, director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, under whose auspices the conference has been held each year since 2004. Obama, unlike outgoing President George W. Bush, has shown an openness to a dialogue with the Iranian leadership. Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, renewed a proposal for a new organisation to include all countries in the region "without exception" to discuss and settle common problems. Khalifa unveiled the idea in October, saying he would like to include Israel and Iran, which prompted a refusal from Iran and hostile reaction from the Bahraini opposition. He told the Manama conference he recognises that the United States has a role in the region but said Washington "has no magic wand" to sort out the region's difficulties. "Our firm conviction in the importance of dialogue and enhanced cooperation compelled us to propose... the establishment of a regional organisation in wich all countries in the Middle East and North Africa region are members without exception," the minister said. This year's Manama Dialogue is being held against the backdrop of a change of administration in Washington following Obama's election as president, the international financial crisis and heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. One of the major sources of tension in the Gulf region is Iran's atomic energy programme. The United States and other major powers accuse Iran of using it as a cover for developing nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies. Chipman said the Manama Dialogue fills a gap created by the absence of any institution drawing together the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) with regional powers Iran and Iraq and other major actors from the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Agenda items for the three-day event include the balance of forces in the region, the economy and security, both in a regional and global context.