The U.S. military is updating its war plan for Iran, a senior officer said yesterday, but he called the planning routine and said pressure on Tehran to curb a nuclear weapons program remains a diplomatic rather than military effort.
"We are in that process, that normal process, of updating our war plans," said Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. forces across the Middle East, Central Asia and parts of North Africa. "We try to keep them current, particularly if . . . our region is active," he said in response to reporters' questions at a Pentagon news conference.
Smith indicated the Iran contingency planning grew out of a broad, long-range effort to freshen routine plans for countries in the region and was not the product of a specific or urgent request.
"I haven't been called into any late-night meetings at, you know, 8 o'clock at night, saying, 'Holy cow, we got to sit down and go plan for Iran,' " he said. "I'm not spending any of my time worrying about the nuclear proliferation in Iran," he said, adding that at this stage diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are "adequate for our needs."
Smith's comments came after a week in which the Bush administration repeatedly warned Iran to give up what Washington contends is an effort to gain nuclear weapons.
Earlier yesterday, Rice told reporters in Brussels that the United States and its European allies have made their nonproliferation demands clear but have set "no deadline" for action by Tehran. "The Iranians know what they need to do. They shouldn't be permitted, under cover of civilian nuclear power . . . to try to build a nuclear weapon," she said.
At the White House, President Bush emphasized that the United States and Europe will "speak with one voice" in pressuring Iran. "The Iranians just need to know that the free world is working together to send a very clear message: . . . Don't develop a nuclear weapon," he said yesterday at an Oval Office appearance with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Bush said he was "pleased" with the responses European leaders gave Rice in discussions on Iran.
Day to day, Smith said, the U.S. military is focused less on the long-range threat of a nuclear Iran than on Tehran's immediate efforts to gain political influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the cross-border flow of fighters from Iran that feed Iraq's insurgency.
Iran backed certain Iraqi candidates for the new National Assembly to try to gain sway over a future Iraqi government, he said. Tehran is also lending some support for the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose militia staged two bloody uprisings against the U.S.-led occupation in several Iraqi cities last year, he said.
"We have always been concerned about Iran's intentions in Iraq, and we have also had some difficulty following them," he said.
A man sought by the United States as a top leader of the Iraq insurgency, former Iraqi vice president Izzat Ibrahim Douri, could be traveling back and forth to Iraq from Iran or from Syria, Smith said. Douri is No. 6 on the U.S. most-wanted list of former Iraqi leaders.
Smith also said he thinks fighters tied to the Lebanese Shiite political group Hezbollah, whose military wing is funded by Iran, have been apprehended in Iraq. He could not confirm reports this week in the Arab news media that cited Iraq's interior minister as saying 18 members of Hezbollah had been detained in Iraq on terrorism charges. "I personally do not believe that Hezbollah has suddenly become a bigger threat than al Qaeda or former regime elements" in Iraq, he said.