Gates says U.S. not looking for excuse for Iran war

Date: 02-15-07

By Andrew Gray

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that the United States was not looking for an excuse to attack Iran and backed off a U.S. official's recent comments implicating Tehran in arming Iraqi insurgents.

"For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran," Gates said. "We are not planning a war with Iran."

His comments came as Washington backed away from remarks made by a senior U.S. military analyst at an off-the-record briefing in Baghdad indicating the highest levels of Iran's government were involved in arming Iraqi militants.

Gates, a former CIA director, said the Pentagon was sensitive to the public's skepticism following questionable intelligence leading up to the Iraq war.

"It's one of the reasons why we were so concerned that the briefing, these materials, be factual and be able to be substantiated by evidence -- so it wasn't hypothesis, it wasn't assumption, it wasn't assessment," he said of the military briefing in Baghdad on Iranian weapons technology inside Iraq.

"I think that that evidence speaks for itself and I hope that people will see that evidence in that respect," he said.

Gates echoed President George W. Bush, saying the U.S. government did not know if Iran's senior political leaders had ordered members of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards to give Iraqi insurgents road-side bomb technology.

But the Pentagon chief said it was a "worry" whether Iran's leadership knew or not.

"We know that the Quds force is involved. We know the Quds force is a paramilitary arm of (Iran's Revolutionary Guards), so we assume that the leadership of the (Revolutionary Guards) knows about this," Gates said.

"Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know, we don't know," he told reporters in the Pentagon. "Frankly for me, either way it's a worry."

Gates also was asked about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and whether the subject was discussed in his meeting on Monday in Pakistan with President Pervez Musharraf.

"If I were Osama bin Laden, I would keep looking over my shoulder," he said, declining further comment.


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