Gates: US Wants Iran Answer on Nuclear Talks by September

WASHINGTON, D.C. (RPRN) 7/27/2009–U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Obama administration hopes Iran will respond to an offer for talks on its nuclear program soon. Gates spoke in Israel, where he is discussing Iran’s nuclear ambitions with top officials.  He said Washington hopes Iran will answer the diplomatic overture in time for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

Standing alongside Gates, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel is taking no options off the table regarding Iran’s nuclear program, indicating a military strike remains a possibility.  But Mr. Barak said the priority now should be given to diplomacy.

While in Israel, Gates is also meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  U.S. envoy George Mitchell held talks with Mr. Barak on Sunday and meets Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday.

Gates and Mitchell are on separate trips in the Middle East as part of a U.S. push for peace in the region.

After talks in Syria Sunday, Mitchell said U.S. President Barack Obama is determined to facilitate a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.

The American diplomat said resuming peace negotiations between Syria and Israel is a “near-term goal.”

Syria suspended peace talks with Israel after Israel launched a military offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas last December.

The U.S. special envoy to the Middle East is now in Egypt to discuss the stalled Middle East peace process with President Hosni Mubarak.  He will then travel to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mitchell’s agenda includes pressing Israel to halt Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem.

Israel has rejected U.S. demands for a total freeze on settlement construction, souring relations with Washington.  But Prime Minister Netanyahu has downplayed the disagreement.

U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones is also traveling to the Middle East this week.  He is leading a delegation to Israel and the West Bank that is scheduled to arrive in the region Tuesday.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.