President Bush's nominee for defense secretary says he believes the United States is neither winning nor losing in Iraq at this point in time.
Robert Gates told a confirmation hearing of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the U.S. is facing challenges in stabilizing the country and political developments in Iraq.
Gates says he is open to new ideas about Iraq. But he stressed that President Bush has the final say on decisions.
He warned that if Iraq is not stabilized in the next year or two, the situation could lead to a regional conflict.
On the subject of Iran, Gates said he believes that country is seeking nuclear weapons capabilities, but he said any U.S. military action against Iran would be used only as a last resort.
Gates is expected to be easily confirmed later this week to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, who has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for his handling of the war in Iraq.
Democrat Carl Levin said Gates will face what he called a monumental challenge from broken policies and mistaken priorities. Levin is set to become the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Outgoing committee chairman Senator John Warner welcomed the nomination, saying Gates has had a distinguished career of service to the nation.
Until his nomination, Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group, which is looking into new strategies for Iraq.
The 63-year-old nominee had a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as CIA director under former President George H.W. Bush.