KABUL (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned on Monday that any foreign military intervention in the crisis in Libya would require international backing.
"I think we will have to monitor the situation very closely," Gates, on a visit to Afghanistan, said when asked about the possibility of an international military response in Libya.
"But I think at this point there is a sense that any action should be the result of international sanction," he told a news conference.
The comments came as government forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi struck at rebels in the east and concern mounted over civilian suffering and a growing exodus of refugees.
Gates said developments in the Middle East had further damaged the image of Iran, where the opposition says at least 79 people were arrested at protest rallies last week that the government denied had even taken place.
"I think where Iran is the loser ... is the contrast between militaries and security authorities in places like Tunisia and Egypt standing aside while people protest against their government, while security services of the Iranian government ruthlessly suppress and kill those who would criticize or protest."
"They (Iran) are losers already in this image across the world," he said.
Gates did not mention Bahrain, where seven people died last month when security forces moved to break up protests in Manama.
Nor did he criticize Saudi Arabia, where activists say security forces on Sunday moved to keep the wave of Arab unrest outside Saudi borders by detaining at least 22 minority Shi'ites who protested last week against discrimination.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Ralph Boulton)