Gates: Obama knows Iran may just be buying time

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting Israeli authorities on Monday, said President Obama "is fully aware that the Iranians may simply try to run out the clock" in negotiations over their nuclear program.

Gates, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said during a news conference with Barak that persuasion was still very much on the table to deal with the Islamic Republic's blossoming nuclear program.

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“I think the president is hoping for some kind of response by this fall” at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, Gates said.

This time frame coincides with remarks made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the recent G8 meeting, where he said leaders had agreed that a response to the overtures made to Iran should be expected by the G20 summit in September. "Between August and September it's for them to decide how they want things to evolve," Sarkozy said. "Pittsburgh is the date."

Sarkozy said further measures would then be discussed at the summit.

The tight window for an Iranian reply comes as Obama is pursuing a domestic agenda, particularly health reform, on another tight time frame.

Calling an Iranian nuclear-weapons program the "central issue," Barak reiterated that Israel would take no option off the table in dealing with the threat.

"We are not in a position to tell the U.S. whether to enter a dialogue with Iran or not," Barak said. "But we continue to clarify — in closed talks with the Americans as well — that our position is that a dialogue of this nature must be limited in time, and should be able to determine whether the Iranians are serious or not."

Gates also said Monday that sanctions remain a possibility in dealing with Iran.

On Monday, Iran's foreign ministry reiterated its insistence that the country only wants nuclear energy, not arms.

"Our defense doctrine has no room for nuclear weapons," spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said at a weekly press conference in Tehran. "We are and we have always been a pioneer in disarmament in the world and in the Middle East."

The statement was likely a response to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Sunday appearance on "Meet the Press," where Clinton said, "We're going to do everything we can to prevent you from ever getting a nuclear weapon, but your pursuit is futile."

Gates's first visit to Israel in more than two years coincides with a trip by Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who met with Barak on Sunday to push an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan and also met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus for "important and positive" peace talks.

Mitchell met Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt, in the latest effort to restart a Middle East peace plan.

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