The top U.S. military officer says he believes Iran's government is involved in providing sophisticated explosives to Iraqi insurgents, but he has not seen specific evidence to prove it. The general told VOA, Iran should stop the flow of weaponry and people across its border into Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin is traveling with the general and filed this report from Honolulu.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, says people who talk about this issue need to be precise about where their facts end and their analysis begins.
He says he has no disagreement with others in the U.S. government who have spoken on the subject in recent days. In Canberra, and twice in Jakarta, he repeated that the U.S. government knows material from Iran is being used to make particularly powerful bombs in Iraq, and that Iranians have been arrested twice in the past month participating in the distribution of that material.
But on all three occasions, General Pace declined to repeat the view of U.S. military briefers in Iraq, who told reporters Sunday that Iran's government is behind the effort.
"That does not translate to that the Iranian government per se [specifically], for sure, is directly involved in doing this," he said.
On board his aircraft, General Pace said he personally believes the Iranian government is involved, but he has not seen proof and does not know how high the involvement goes. In any case, he said, the Iranian government should stop the flow of people and weapons into Iraq.
The weapons are roadside bombs packed in strong cylinders. When they explode, they shoot a molten metal projectile that can pierce the armor of U.S. military vehicles.
The military briefers in Iraq, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said their claim that senior Iranian officials are directly involved in providing powerful bombs to Iraqi insurgents was a conclusion based on what they called the overall tenor of the available evidence. Their evidence included numerous bomb parts they displayed, and the arrest in Iraq of several Iranians who they say belong to the country's elite Quds force, including its second ranking leader. But the briefers said they have not established a direct link between those men and the bomb-making material they showed reporters.
The anonymity of the Baghdad briefers, and their unwillingness or inability to provide specific proof for their claim of high-level Iranian government involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, led to much skepticism of the claim around the world.
But White House spokesman Tony Snow indicated he believes the Baghdad briefers, saying there is not a lot of independent activity in the Iranian government, especially on an issue like supplying weapons to foreign insurgents. And State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the military briefers in Baghdad made a "very strong circumstantial case," and made it very clear that the Iranians are 'up to their eyeballs in this activity.'
On Wednesday, General Pace told a small group of military educators in Jakarta it is 'not acceptable' for Iran to send weapons to Iraq. But at his news conference Tuesday he said the effort to stop the bomb-making and distribution networks will be pursued only inside Iraq.
"We can do what we need to do militarily to protect the U.S. armed forces and the other armed forces inside of Iraq, and we will continue to do so aggressively," he said. "The rest of the Iranian story, then, goes to diplomacy amongst nations."
In the airborne interview, General Pace said there are many ways to get a message to Iran, and that it is not his responsibility to decide whether the United States should speak to Iran directly about the issue. The Bush administration says it will not deal directly with Iran until it suspends its nuclear weapons program.
The controversy over the Baghdad briefing led the New York Times to write an editorial calling for President Bush to make his intentions toward Iran clear, and saying Congress should not allow itself to be convinced to support what the Times called "another disastrous war."
Speaking to American military personnel at the U.S. embassy in Canberra on Monday, General Pace said the United States has "zero intent" to use its military forces now in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf against Iran. He said, "I see no need in the present situation for kinetic action against Iran."