PENTAGON, STATE DEPARTMENT— The Pentagon is downplaying speculation about U.S. and Iranian military cooperation in Iraq, hours after Secretary of State John Kerry made the suggestion in an interview. A military spokesman told reporters Monday the U.S. is not planning to work with Iran militarily to protect its troubled neighbor
With militant Islamic fighters claiming new cities in Iraq and distributing video purporting to show mass executions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the possibility of working with Iran to stem the crisis.
In an interview with with Katie Couric, Yahoo News' global anchor, Kerry called the advance by the Syrian-based al-Qaida affiliate an "existential" danger to Iraq. He suggested the U.S. may need to go "step by step" with Iran, and on whether to cooperate militarily said, "I would not rule out anything."
Kerry told Couric the militants are a challenge to the region and "clearly are focused not just there, but they’re focused on trying to do harm to Europe, to America and other people."
A few hours later at the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Kirby made clear that right now, the U.S. military is prepared to go only so far.
"There are no plans to have consultations with Iran about military activities in Iraq,” Kirby said.
He did not address reports that Iran already has sent members of its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps into Iraq. Both Kirby and Kerry suggested the possibility of talks with Iran this week regarding the situation inside Iraq.
“We encourage Iran, like all the neighbors in the region, to play a constructive role, to respect the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Iraq while Iraq is going through this difficult time,” said Kirby.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said the U.S. encourages Iran's government to play a role "in reducing the sectarian nature of how Iraq is being governed, that that's a role that they could play," Psaki said. "We don't feel it's useful for the Iraqis to rely on the capacity of Iran's security forces."
U.S. officials have criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for not doing enough to include more Sunni and Kurdish leaders in the government in Baghdad.
U.S. defense officials said they are continuing to prepare a range of military options to present to President Barack Obama, designed to help the Iraqi security forces and break ISIL’s momentum.
The U.S. already has sent about 100 additional troops to help with security at its embassy in Baghdad. And in recent days, the Pentagon has ordered the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier, and guided missile destroyers into the Persian Gulf.
On Monday, officials announced the USS Mesa Verde also is heading into the Gulf with 550 Marines and five Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, capable of evacuating personnel if needed.
A senior State Department official said Sunday that Secretary Kerry spoke with his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates about combating fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Deputy U.S. Secretary of State William Burns is in Vienna for international talks on limiting Iran's nuclear program. A senior State Department official said Burns may have discussions with Iranian officials about Iraq, but that those would be "completely and separately" removed from nuclear negotiations.