CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Failure in Iraq would unleash sectarian strife and extremism and would be felt first in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
Speaking to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the third day of his Middle East travels, Gates exhorted Arab countries in the region to use their influence to dampen the insurgency and encourage political reconciliation in Iraq.
``Whatever disagreements we might have had over how we got to this point in Iraq, the consequences of a failed state in Iraq _ of chaos there _ will adversely impact the security and prosperity of every nation in the Middle East and the Gulf region,'' Gates said.
He warned that while some who disagree with the war may be cheering for failure in Iraq, ``these sentiments are dangerously shortsighted and self-destructive.''
The initial effects of failure, he said, would first be felt in Middle East capitals and communities ``well before they are felt in Washington an in New York.''
Gates' speech came in the midst of visits to military and political leaders in the region, where he urged them to do what they can to spur reconciliation efforts in Iraq and involve the Iraqi government more actively in the political discourse in the Middle East.
Gates, who is making his third trip to the region as defense secretary, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Iraq and to protecting allies in the area _ while also alluding to the raging debate between the Democratically controlled Congress and the Bush administration over bringing an end to the war.
The arguments, he said, probably reflect those going on across the Middle East but do not suggest the U.S. is not determined to keep working with its allies in the region.
That ``is a responsibility we will not abandon, a trust we will not break,'' he said.
Gates also said that Iran and Syria need to become part of the solution by reducing the violence and helping promote reconciliation in Iraq _ a key goal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.
U.S. military officials have stepped up their criticism of Iran, saying for the first time this week that Iranians are involved in providing weapons to Afghanistan.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that U.S. forces recently intercepted Iranian-made weapons intended for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, suggesting wider Iranian involvement in the region. Military officials have said for months that Iranians are supplying weapons and training to insurgents in Iraq.
Asked about the latest development Wednesday morning, Gates said the U.S. does not yet know the magnitude of the problem or to what level in the Iranian government it rises. He said it is ``troublesome and worrisome that the Iranians may be deciding to counter the efforts of some 42 nations in Afghanistan trying to help the government establish a strong democratic state. So we'll watch it very closely.''
During the speech, he added that, ``We should have no illusions about the nature of this regime _ or about their designs for their nuclear program, their intentions for Iraq or their ambitions in the Gulf region.
Iran has been a key topic in meetings Gates had with leaders in Jordan, and on Tuesday he told reporters that he would bring up the issue with Egypt President Hosni Mubarak during a meeting Wednesday. He said he wanted to get Mubarak's views on Iran's role in Iraq.
In his speech, which came shortly after he met with Mubarak, Gates said Egypt will play a key role in securing Iraq and holding Iran accountable.
``Because of Egypt's unique position _ its geography, its economy, and demographics and its history _ it is unlikely that progress can be made on the most pressing issues of today without Egypt's full engagement, support and leadership,'' said Gates.
The U.S. and some of its allies have expressed concerns about Iran secretly developing nuclear weapons _ a charge Iran denies.
Gates met with Jordan's King Abdullah II Tuesday, and is expected to travel to Israel later this week for meetings with leaders there.