The United States said Thursday Iran should see the American military presence in Iraq as a stabilizing, rather than threatening presence. The comments followed remarks by Iran's Defense Minister that some Iranian generals favor striking U.S. forces pre-emptively if they sensed a threat.
The Bush administration is clearly trying to avoid a war of words with Iran after comments by that country's defense minister hinting of the possibility of pre-emptive Iranian action against U.S. or Israeli forces in the region.
In an interview with the Arabic al-Jazeera TV network this week, the Iranian minister, Ali Shamkhani, expressed concern about the American presence in neighboring Iraq, and said some Iranian generals favored striking first if they sensed a U.S. threat.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said he was not interested in "chasing statements" by foreign officials. But he said he would certainly characterize Iranian concerns about the U.S. presence in Iraq as "unwarranted."
He said U.S. troops are part of a multinational force, in Iraq at the invitation of the country's interim government and pursuant to U.N. Security Council resolutions. He said they are present to help support the stability and security of Iraq so there is "no cause" to see them as a threat.
"Our view is, and we've stated it quite often, is that far from seeing them as threatening, they should be seen as stabilizing," he said. "And Iraq's neighbors have an interest in joining with all of us working in Iraq to insure that those trying to unsettle, destabilize or otherwise work against the government of Iraq are defeated."
The Iranian comments came amid a background of tension over Iran's nuclear program. The United States maintains that the nominally-peaceful program has a secret weapons component, and Israel has warned it would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
Spokesman Ereli said he would not address recent rhetorical exchanges between Israel and Iran over the nuclear issue.
But he said the United States, though it finds Iran's nuclear program to be of "serious concern," is committed to pursuing the matter by diplomatic means, as evidenced by its active diplomacy within the International Atomic Energy Agency.