The Bush administration likely expected a skeptical reponse to its Sunday anonymous briefing accusing Iranian leaders of sending bombs to Iraq to kill U.S. troops, but it is doubtful whether they expected one of the skeptics to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. -- On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Gen. Peter Pace said he "would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about [explosively formed projectiles being manufactured in Iran]." -- "I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit." -- And Pace is not alone: the Post reported that no one in the Pentagon seemed willing to put the charge that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government were involved in writing. -- AP's Chris Brummitt reported that "When pressed repeatedly about the apparent mixed message, [White House Press Secretary Tony] Snow said 'We're not on separate pages.' He said he had spoken to Pace about it." -- But Gen. Pace obviously is on a different page, Brummitt suggested: "A military official on Pace's staff said the general stands by his comments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. . . . the official said Pace was aware of what was going to be presented in Baghdad, but that the comment about involvement at the highest levels of Iranian government was not included in the material Pace was given." ...
PACE DEMURS ON ACCUSATION OF IRAN
By Karen DeYoung
** General Says He Knows Nothing Tying Leaders to Arms in Iraq **
February 13, 2007
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that he has no information indicating Iran's government is directing the supply of lethal weapons to Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq.
"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran," Pace told Voice of America during a visit to Australia. "What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this."
"It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved," he continued, "but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."
Pace's comments came a day after U.S. military officials in Baghdad alleged that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government have directed use of weapons that are killing U.S. troops in Iraq. No information was provided to substantiate the charge. Administration officials yesterday deflected requests for more details, even as they repeatedly implied Tehran's involvement.
In an interview yesterday with ABC's "Good Morning America," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the administration is "pointing fingers at others" when its troop presence in Iraq is the source of most of the country's problems.
While not denying that Iranian weapons may have been found in Iraq, Ahmadinejad implied that if they were, it was not his government's doing. "Can Americans close their long borders?" he asked, noting that "millions" of Iranians cross the border into neighboring Iraq each year. "The position of our government . . . and the position of the Revolutionary Guard is also the same: We are opposed to any kind of conflict in Iraq."
On Sunday, in a briefing for reporters, U.S. military officials in Baghdad offered a slide show and examples of armor-piercing explosives that they said bore writing and serial numbers from Iran. Briefers, speaking anonymously for what they said were security reasons, said the weapons had caused the deaths of 170 U.S. soldiers in the past two years. No cameras were allowed in the briefing room, and a transcript of the session was not provided.
The officials also showed what they said were false identity cards of Iranians whom U.S. forces had recently detained in Iraq. The men were described as members of the Quds Force, an élite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that U.S. officials believe is under the control of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"We have been able to determine that this material," especially sophisticated roadside explosives called explosively formed penetrators, "is coming from the IRGC-Quds Force," said a briefer, identified only as a senior defense analyst. Direction for operations using the weaponry, he said, came from the "highest levels" of Iran's government.
Asked by reporters yesterday to provide more information on the charge, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "The Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity." He called the Baghdad presentation a "very strong circumstantial case," saying he was "not going to try to embellish that briefing" and "any reasonable person . . . would draw the same conclusions."
White House spokesman Tony Snow offered similar responses. "Let me put it this way," he said. "There's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that."
Pressed repeatedly, Snow answered, "Look, the Department of Defense is doing this. What I'm telling you is, you guys want to get those questions answered, you need to go to the Pentagon."
A call to the Defense Intelligence Agency brought a referral to the main Pentagon press office. That office referred a caller to the Washington office of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, which responded with an e-mailed copy of Sunday's briefing slides -- containing no mention of the "highest levels" allegation and a request for questions in writing. Written questions brought no response. An official from the Pentagon Joint Staff said last night that Pace had seen the briefing slides but had "no personal knowledge of any senior involvement by senior Iranian officials."
Members of Congress have repeatedly asked whether the administration is planning a repeat in Iran of its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Intelligence findings that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and had close ties to al-Qaeda turned out to be almost entirely false.
Sunday's briefing on Iran, originally scheduled for last month, had been delayed as officials said they were trying to avoid "overstating" what they could prove.
"There are certainly those who are in favor" of war with Iran, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said Sunday of the Bush administration on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We've seen that in the past that they would like nothing more than to build a case for that."
In recent weeks, the administration has denied any war plans, saying it is committed to a strategy of pressure and diplomacy against Iran's nuclear activities, operations in Iraq and other aggression.
In an interview yesterday with C-SPAN, President Bush described his policy as "comprehensive" and complained that charges he is planning to attack Iran are politically motivated and "typical Washington."
QUESTIONS WHETHER IRAN ARMING IRAQ
By Chris Brummitt
February 13, 2007
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The top U.S. military officer said Tuesday the discovery that roadside bombs in Iraq contained material made in Iran does not necessarily mean the Iranian government was involved in supplying insurgents.
The comments by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called into question assertions by three senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad on Sunday who said the highest levels of Iranian government were responsible for arming Shiite militants in Iraq with the bombs, blamed for the deaths of more than 170 troops in the U.S.-led coalition.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said Monday he was confident the weaponry was coming with the approval of the Iranian government. On Tuesday, Snow said Pace's comments do not conflict with those of the senior military officials or the White House.
Pace told reporters in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, that U.S. forces hunting militant networks in Iraq that produced roadside bombs had arrested Iranians and some of the materials used in the devices were made in Iran.
"That does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this," Pace said. "What it does say is that things made in Iran are being used in Iraq to kill coalition soldiers."
On Monday, Pace said he had no firm knowledge that the Iranian government had sanctioned the arming of the insurgents.
"It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit," Pace told the Voice of America.
Iran denied it gave sophisticated weapons to militants to attack U.S. forces.
"Such accusations cannot be relied upon or be presented as evidence. The United States has a long history in fabricating evidence. Such charges are unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in Tehran.
When pressed repeatedly about the apparent mixed message, Snow said "We're not on separate pages." He said he had spoken to Pace about it.
"What he was thinking is, are you trying to lay this at the feet of members of the Supreme Governing Council?" Snow said of Pace. "Are you trying to lay this at the feet of particular individuals? The answer is no."
The United States does not have the intelligence that gets that specific and Pace was just being precise in how he answered the question about Iranian government involvement, Snow said.
A military official on Pace's staff said the general stands by his comments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Asked if Pace had vetted the information that went into Sunday's briefing, the official said Pace was aware of what was going to be presented in Baghdad, but that the comment about involvement at the highest levels of Iranian government was not included in the material Pace was given.
The Joint Chiefs chairman is the senior military adviser to the president, but he commands no troops and is not in the chain of command that runs from the president to the secretary of defense to commanders in the field.
The U.S. accusations against Iran have also drawn in an Austrian arms company.
Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Tuesday that American troops have recovered more than 100 "Steyr. 50 HS" rifles in Iraq, part of an Austrian consignment of 800 such weapons delivered to Iran over American protests that they could be given to insurgents.
The Austrian government approved the sale of the rifles, made by precision weapons maker Steyr Mannlicher GmbH, after it concluded in 2004 that they would be used to fight narcotics smugglers.
"We checked the proposal very thoroughly," Austrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Astrid Harz said, noting that the situation in Iraq and the region in 2003-2004 was very different than it is now.
"What happened to the weapons then is the responsibility of the Iranians," Harz said.
Franz Holzschuh, Steyr's CEO, said the company had not officially been contacted by anyone to verify the serial numbers on the rifles. He said there was a possibility the weapons were reproductions and that there were "thousands" of these in circulation.
"Fact is, we never delivered to Iraq," he said.
U.S. officials could not confirm the validity of the report, said William Wanlund, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria.
"Obviously, if the reports are true, it would be profoundly disturbing," he said.
--Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington, Raphael G. Satter in London and Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna, Austria, contributed to this report.