The senior U.S. military officer said Friday the United States must maintain the option of using military force to end Iran's support for Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq, but he said other means, economic and diplomatic, should be used for now. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Admiral Mullen says insurgent weapons found recently provide evidence that Iranian operatives are continuing, and increasing, their support for Iraqi Shi'ite insurgents, directly contradicting a promise Iran's president reportedly made late last year to Iraq's prime minister.
"The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago," he said. "It's plainly obvious they have not. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way."
Admiral Mullen told reporters "all options certainly remain open" for a U.S. response to the Iranian activity, which U.S. officials say includes providing money, training and high-powered roadside bombs to Iraqi Shiite insurgents.
"There are lots of potential courses of military action, depending to specifics that occurred," he added. "And when we say, when I say, 'I don't want to take any military options off the table,' that certainly more than implies that we have military options."
Admiral Mullen's comments reflect frustration expressed earlier in the week by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said all senior U.S. military commanders involved in the Iraq war have the same view of Iran's role.
"It is a hard position, because what the Iranians are doing is killing American servicemen and women inside Iraq," he said.
Still, Admiral Mullen said Friday he does not expect a U.S.-Iran military confrontation anytime soon, and he says there are other things the U.S. government can do to press Iran to stop helping the Iraqi insurgents.
"I am, however, where I have been in terms of using all elements of national power, whether it's economic or financial, international, diplomatic, and not taking any military options off the table," he noted. "And I think it is in that combination that we have to continue to increase pressure, and I have no expectations that we're going to get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future."
Admiral Mullen said he would not like to see the United States involved in another fight in the Middle East, which he said would be "extremely stressing" to the U.S. military. But he also said he has combat capability available in case it is needed.
The admiral says the recent fighting in Basra provided the clearest evidence yet of the extent of Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, and he says he would be "hard pressed" to believe top Iranian leaders are not aware of the activity. He says the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, will provide a detailed briefing on the Iranian activity within a few weeks.