ANKARA, Turkey – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Saturday dismissed assertions by the Iranian government that it was nearing a deal with the international community on its nuclear program and said a "different tack" may be needed.
Following meetings with senior Turkish officials, Gates told reporters that if Iran was serious about handing over its uranium it would be working with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"The reality is they've done nothing to assure the international community" or "to stop their progress toward (building) a nuclear weapon," Gates said.
"And therefore various nations need to think about whether it is time for a different tack," he added.
Gates' blunt rebuff comes as the international community is struggling to reach consensus on how to cajole Iran toward abandoning its controversial nuclear program.
The Obama administration has said Iran appears bent on developing nuclear weapons, although Iran claims its nuclear work is peaceful. Iran is thought to have stockpiled more than enough nuclear material to manufacture a single bomb, and more is being made daily.
Administration officials have invited new talks with Iran, but with no sign that Iran wants to do business, the focus has turned to penalties.
In the latest blow to that effort, China has emerged as an obstacle to winning a fourth round of U.N. penalties.
Speaking to reporters from a Turkish hotel that overlooks the nation's Iranian embassy, Gates said he has sought in his discussions with Turkey and other allies to underscore the threat Iran poses to them.
"Iran is the only country in the region that has publicly declared its intent to destroy another country in the region," he said. If Iran proceeds with this program "unrestrained," there is a "real danger of proliferation" that would destabilize region, he added.
Among the topics discussed this week is Turkey's potential role in NATO missile defense systems based in Europe, which U.S. officials say will help blunt the threat from Iran.
The U.S sees Turkey as playing a vital role in the effort because of its close geographical location and cultural ties to the region. Gates did not meet with Iranian officials here, as the U.S. and Iran do not have formal diplomatic ties.
When asked about China's recent statement in Munich that patience and further diplomatic measures are needed, Gates said he remains optimistic that tougher sanctions could still be imposed.
Gates also said the U.S. is looking at what other capabilities it could provide to Turkey to aid its fight against an insurgent group in northern Iraq known as the PKK. A couple years ago, the U.S. began providing Turkey with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
"We have continued that" and will "see if there are more capabilities we can share with Turkey in terms of taking on this threat," Gates said.