Robert Gates: Imposing new sanctions on Iran would be a ‘terrible mistake’

BY Larisa Epatko  January 14, 2014 at 12:40 PM EDT

Watch an excerpt of the interview with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States had “no choice but to sit down at the table with the Iranians” once they agreed to negotiate on the development of their nuclear program. In an interview airing on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour, he called sanctions, which Congress is considering, a “terrible mistake” and “strategic error.”

“The big question is what happens with a final agreement” on Iran’s nuclear development, said Gates, who was wearing a neck brace after a fall at his home. He said six months should be a firm deadline for the nuclear deal.

“The Iranians are first-class experts in slow-rolling their … adversaries,” and there is a risk of negotiations dragging out beyond the six months, he said.

“Imposing new sanctions right now is a terrible mistake and would be a strategic error,” Gates continued. Any new sanctions should be tied to the failure of negotiations, and that would strengthen the president’s hand at the negotiating table, he said.

Gates also said his new book, “Duties: Memoirs of a Secretary at War”, is actually a positive assessment of President Obama, despite early attention deeming him critical of the sitting president. And Gates said if he had waited until 2017 — the end of Mr. Obama’s term — to publish the work he would have lost the chance to try to contribute to the thinking behind current policies dealing with challenging countries. “To wait until 2017, makes any contribution that I could make irrelevant.”

Read more: Former Defense Secretary Gates calls NSA leaker Snowden a ‘traitor’

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