Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Saturday, 13 December 2008

Foes warned off 'testing' Obama

Barack Obama (file photo)
Barack Obama is to be inaugurated as president on 20 January

The US defence secretary has warned opponents of the US against trying to "test" Barack Obama with a crisis in the early days of his presidency.

Robert Gates said the new president's security team was ready to defend US national interests from the moment he takes office next month.

Mr Gates, who is staying in his post, said Middle East and Gulf security would remain a key issue for the US.

He was speaking at a regional security forum in the Gulf state of Bahrain.

On Iran, Mr Gates denied that the US was seeking regime change, but wanted to see "a change in policies and a change in behaviour".

He also repeated calls for Sunni Arab countries to back Iraq with full diplomatic ties.

The conference in Manama, organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, is being attended by representatives of 25 states.

'Sorely mistaken'

Mr Gates, a former CIA director, told delegates he brought a "message of continuity and commitment to our friends and partners in the region".

Gates's warning to US opponents

"Anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to test the new administration would be sorely mistaken.

"President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on January 20th."

Mr Obama's running mate, Senator Joe Biden, warned during the election campaign that there would be an attempt to test Mr Obama's mettle with an international crisis early on - in the same way that President John F. Kennedy had been tested during the Cuba missile crisis.

Since becoming defence secretary in 2006, Mr Gates has won plaudits from Democrats and Republicans for his handling of the troop surge in Iraq, and has also been given credit for the decline in violence in the country.

He visited Afghanistan on Thursday, and promised more troops and resources as the US cuts back its presence in Iraq.

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