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IRAN: War fears spike after Mullen remarks

April 25, 2008 |  1:55 pm

The barometer of tensions between Iran and the United States went up a notch or even two today as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael G. Mullen accused Iran of stepping up weapons and training to its surrogates in Iraq despite promises to stop doing so.

MullenLos Angeles Times Pentagon correspondent Julian E. Barnes is following the story from Washington:

...Mullen said there was not a massive infusion of weapons but said over time there had been "a consistent increase" in arms shipments. Speaking at a morning news conference, Mullen said weapons had been intercepted in Iraq that showed evidence of relatively recent manufacture in Iran...

Also today came word of another possible confrontation between U.S. forces and Iranians in the Persian Gulf. According to the Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, an American contractor fired approaching speedboats that identified themselves as Iranian vessels. Iranians said no such incident took place.

Insiders say Mullen is no warmonger. They say Mullen is not eager to get America's overstretched military embroiled in a war with a country three times bigger than Iraq.

He insisted in a press conference today that it was Iran, not the U.S. stirring up trouble:

I have no expectation that, you know, that we are going to get into a conflict with Iran and in the immediate future. But I am concerned over time just in these last couple of years, you know, the tensions continue to rise. Iran does not respond. And in fact, they seem to be ratcheting it up in terms of their support for terrorism. And I am concerned about where that goes in the long term.

Mullen underlined the topic by beginning his opening remarks at the press conference with a sternly worded announcement about Iran:

First, on Iran, I've been clear lately that I'm extremely concerned about what I believe to be an increasingly lethal and malign influence by that government and the Qods Force in particular in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. I believe recent events, especially the Basra operation, have revealed just how much and just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability. Their support to criminal groups in the form of munitions and training, as well as other assistance they are providing and the attacks they are encouraging, continues to kill coalition and Iraqi personnel. The Iranian government pledged to halt such activities some months ago. It's plainly obvious they have not. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.

He said that there would be evidence forthcoming demonstrating Iran's involvement in Iraq: 

MULLEN: I know that General [David] Petraeus is preparing a briefing which, I would expect, he'll give in the next couple of weeks. That would get into the kinds of details that you asked specifically. Some of it has shown me though that some of the weapons are recently not just found but recently manufactured.

QUESTION: What specific evidence though is there on that date issue?

MULLEN: Usually when you manufacture weapons, there's a time/date stamp that's put on. And it's that kind of evidence or that kind of detail that's typically available when you pick up weapons in a cache discovery.

QUESTION: Admiral, there are reports this morning that some of those weapons were stamped with dates of only two months ago. Are you aware of that?

MULLEN: I'm aware that some of the weapons — and again Jim, I haven't been through this in great detail. But I'm aware that some of the weapons found are very recent.   

So is the U.S. planning a war with Iran? Beltway insiders say no. The uniformed military is genuinely concerned by Iran's alleged actions in Iraq.

Mullen himself stressed that the "solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure" to persuade Iran to change its ways.

But ironically, his comments may have helped energy-rich Iran fill its coffers by causing oil prices to shoot up on concern another Middle East conflict will disrupt supply lines and production.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Adm. Michael J. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: Pentagon website

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