- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday all but ruled out military strikes on Iran, declaring “we are not planning for a war with Iran.”

Mr. Gates, who has called military action against Iran an absolute last resort, made the denial during a flurry of press and Internet blogger speculation that President Bush is preparing to order strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In announcing a new strategy for Iraq on Jan. 10, the president said U.S. troops would target Iranian agents inside the country who are aiding the deadly insurgency. The administration said Iran is supplying Shi’ite insurgents with powerful improvised explosive devices whose explosions penetrate armor and result in multiple casualties.

Mr. Bush also ordered an increase in the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf by deploying Patriot anti-missile batteries and a second aircraft carrier in the region.

Those twin moves stirred speculation that a war was in the offing. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threaten to destroy Israel and refuses to stop enriching uranium, as the United Nations has demanded.

Administration officials say the buildup was done to mollify Persian Gulf Arab states who fear attacks from Iran, and to put pressure on Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Gates explained it this way: “What we are trying to do is, in Iraq, counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers, their involvement in activities, particularly these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops and we are trying to get them to stop their nuclear enrichment. We are doing the latter strictly through the diplomatic process. … The diplomatic process is working and I think that that’s where we are relying.”

At the White House, where officials released a new intelligence estimate on the Iraq war’s path, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said he has delayed release of a “white paper” detailing Iran’s transgressions in Iraq.

Mr. Hadley told reporters the draft paper was “overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts.”

Mr. Gates said the briefing is being compiled by the U.S. command in Baghdad. He said Cabinet officials “want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is absolutely accurate and is dominated by facts — serial numbers, technology and so on.”

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