U.S. Defense Secretary: Military action against Iran is last resort

By News Agencies

Haaretz

Tevet 23, 5767

U.S. officials said Friday there was no immediate plan to strike targets in Iran, but they also would not rule out military action.

Their comments came after President George W. Bush vowed in a prime-time
address to Americans to go after Iranian terrorist networks feeding the insurgency in Iraq.

The U.S. and Iran have been involved in a bitter standoff over Tehran's
nuclear program, a clash that has intensified because the United States says Iran helped provide roadside bombs that have killed American troops in Iraq.

Tensions inched upward another notch this week after five Iranians were
detained by U.S.-led forces after a raid on an Iranian government liaison
office in northern Iraq.

Bush's remarks Wednesday in a prime-time speech announcing his plan to boost U.S. forces in Iraq, prompted questions from members of Congress about whether the U.S. is considering attacks on Iranian territory. Bush administration officials have long refused to rule out any options against Iran but said military action would be a last resort.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while U.S. forces are trying to prevent Iran and Syria from disrupting U.S. forces in Iraq, there were no immediate plans for an attack.

"We believe that we can interrupt these networks that are providing support through actions inside the territory of Iraq, that there is no need to attack targets in Iran itself," Gates told the panel, adding that he continues to believe that "any kind of military action inside Iran itself, that would be a very last resort."

Pace said special operations forces are continually battling insurgents who are getting aid from Iran. "I think one of the reasons you keep hearing about Iran is because we keep finding their stuff in Iraq," Pace said.

Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Bush on Thursday asking for clarifications on the administration's stance toward attacking Iran.

Republican Sen. John Warner and Democrat Robert Byrd raised the issue at a hearing Friday. "The president seems to have placed diplomacy on the back-burner again," Byrd said.

In his speech Wednesday, Bush chastised Iran and Syria for not blocking
terrorists at their borders with Iraq. He specifically blamed Iran for
providing material support for attacks on American troops. "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said. "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

On Friday, White House spokesman Tony Snow called the suggestion that war
plans were under way an "urban legend."

"What the president was talking about is defending American forces within
Iraq, and also doing what we can to disrupt networks that might be trying to convey weapons or fighters into battle theaters within Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis," Snow said.

Bush authorized a series of raids against Iranians in Iraq
An order from President Bush authorized a series of U.S. raids against Iranians in Iraq as part of a broad military offensive, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

Bush issued the order several months ago, Rice told The New York Times as she prepared to visit the Middle East. She said the president acted "after a period of time in which we saw increasing activity" among Iranians in Iraq "and increasing lethality in what they were producing."

Five Iranians were detained by U.S.-led forces this week after a raid on an Iranian government liaison office in northern Iraq because of information linking the facility to the Revolutionary Guards and other Iranian elements who are engaging in violent activities in Iraq. The move further frayed the relations between the two countries.

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said there was no truth to reports that Iran was carrying out legitimate diplomatic activity at the site. "It did not have the standing of a consulate nor did it have any other international diplomatic standing to speak of," he said.

Casey's comments contradict Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, who said Friday that the Iranians were working in a "liaison office" in Irbil that had government approval and was in the process of being approved as a consulate.

The United States accuses Iran of helping provide roadside bombs that have killed American troops in Iraq, and a bitter standoff already exists over Tehran's nuclear program.