Pace Stands By Cautious Remarks on Iran

The top American military officer is standing by remarks he made Monday, first reported by VOA, that appear to contradict U.S. military officials Baghdad, who said Iran's government is providing powerful bombs to Iraqi insurgents. The general also says the United States has no intention of attacking Iran. VOA's Al Pessin is traveling with the general, en route home from Australia and Indonesia, and filed this report from the Pacific island, Guam.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, says he has no disagreement with others in the U.S. government who have spoken on the subject, in recent days, but he believes it is important to be precise. In Canberra, and again twice in Jakarta, he repeated that the American government knows that material from Iran is being used to make powerful bombs in Iraq and that Iranians have been arrested twice, in the last month, participating in the distribution of such material.

But, on all three occasions, he contradicted 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.

General Pace told a small group of military educators in Jakarta, Wednesday, it is important to be as precise as possible and that it is important for him to speak with clarity when discussing international relations. He says Iranian officials clearly know their weapons and people have been found inside Iraq, but says he does not know what level - inside the Iranian government - is involved in sending the people and material.

The military briefers in Iraq - who spoke on condition of anonymity - said their claim that senior Iranian officials are directly involved in providing the 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.

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. 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, in his words, "up to their eyeballs in this activity."

General Pace says Iranian leaders certainly know material and people from their country have been found in the roadside bomb networks in Iraq. He told the educators in Jakarta that activity is "not acceptable." But, at his news conference Tuesday, he said the effort to stop it 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."

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 American embassy in Canberra, 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.

"I see no need in the present situation for kinetic action against Iran," he said.

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