ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Before his meeting with the crown prince here Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates toured the country’s most famous mosque, which features one of the largest Persian rugs in the world and inlay marble work from China.

It’s fitting, since the thrust of Gates’ visit focused on pushing this oil-rich country to leverage its economic relationship with China to support sanctions against Iran.

Gates’ trip to the UAE, his first since 2007, and to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday comes on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to the Gulf last month, and is part of the Obama administration’s desire to unite the Arab world in a common defense against an increasingly aggressive Iran.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also visited both Saudi Arabia and the UAE last month.

The cooperation of the region has become more imperative as the United States has “pivoted from the engagement track to the pressure track” with Iran, a senior defense official said.

Gates said he spoke with both countries about “the prospects for sanctions, prospect for sanctions working and how we bring pressure on the Iranian government to change their policies.”

The United States is seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution punishing Iran for its nuclear ambitions, and needs the support of China and Russia, both of whom have veto powers.

Gates said he thinks Russia “is already there” on that point, but China still needs cajoling.

From his dinner meetings with Saudi King Abdullah and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Gates said he senses a willingness to use their economic alliances to help tip the scales in favor of a resolution. Leaders in both places, Gates said, were open to playing ball on the resolution because the sanctions would focus on the leadership and would “shield the Iranian people” as much as possible.

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