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U.S. denies military plans against Iran, Syria

Reuters | January 12, 2007 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States denied on Friday it was preparing for military action against Iran and Syria, after President George W. Bush issued a stern warning to them, raising concerns of a spillover from the Iraq war.

Bush, in his speech on Wednesday unveiling his revised Iraq strategy, accused Tehran and Damascus of allowing use of their territory for launching attacks inside Iraq, and vowed "we will interrupt the flow of support."

U.S. lawmakers voiced concern on Thursday the Iraq war could spread to neighboring Iran and Syria if U.S. troops were to chase militants across the border. But U.S. officials insisted the plan was to disrupt supply lines from inside Iraq.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said he wanted to knock down an "urban legend" that Bush was "trying to prepare the way for war with either country and that there were war preparations under way."

"There are not," he told reporters. "What the president was talking about is defending American forces within Iraq."

"There's lots of war gaming," he added. "This notion that somehow the president was announcing as a precursor to planned military action, a planned war against Iran, that's just not the case."

Snow reiterated that Washington was focusing on diplomatic means against Iran over its nuclear program. Western powers say Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it wants nuclear technology for civilian power generation.

The United States has repeatedly accused Shi'ite Iran of meddling in Iraq, where the long-oppressed Shi'ite majority is now in power and sectarian violence is raging. Tehran denies U.S. charges that it supplies Shi'ite militias with weapons.

Bush also said he had ordered an additional aircraft carrier strike group to the region and would deploy Patriot missile defense systems to "reassure our friends and allies" -- steps widely seen as a warning to Iran and Syria.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden bluntly told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday he did not think Bush had the authority to launch attacks against militant networks in Iran and Syria.


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