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Iraq Transition

White House: Can't rule out attack on Iran

Story Highlights

• White House says no attack planned against Iran, but won't rule out possibility
• National security adviser Stephen Hadley says diplomacy should resolve issues
• Hadley won't say whether he believes move on Iran would need congressional OK
• Iran says U.S. detention of Iranians in Iraq is "illegal"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House said Sunday it is not planning military action against Iran, but refused to rule out the possibility, bucking pressure from several senators who said the administration is not authorized to do so.

Asked whether the United States is preparing for a potential military conflict with Iran, President Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley told NBC's "Meet the Press," "No, the president has said very clearly that the issues we have with Iran should be solved diplomatically."

But, on ABC's "This Week," Hadley would not rule out the possibility of such an attack and would not say whether he agrees with those senators who say that the Bush administration would need congressional backing for such a move.

The sharp questioning about U.S. plans for Iran followed Bush's address to the nation Wednesday night announcing his strategy for Iraq, in which he vowed the United States "will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." (Full story)

The Bush administration accuses Iran of sending fighters into Iraq and attacking U.S. troops. Tehran denies the charges.

"The priority is what's going on in Iraq," Hadley told ABC. "That's the place where the activity's occurring. That's the best place... for us to take this on."

Asked repeatedly whether the United States has the authority to enter Iran if it believes doing so would help prevent attacks, Hadley did not answer. Then came this exchange:

Host George Stephanopoulos: "So, you don't believe you have the authority to go into Iran?"

Hadley: "I didn't say that. This is another issue. Any time you have questions about crossing international borders, there are legal issues."

Several senators have voiced opposition to the idea of the United States entering Iran.

Last week, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a hearing on Iraq, "I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that."

Rice did not rule out entering Iran or give a position on whether the Bush administration would need congressional approval.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, told Rice, "No one in our government can sit here today and tell Americans that we won't engage the Iranians and the Syrians cross-border."

Comparisons to Vietnam war

"When our government lied to the American people and said, 'We didn't cross the border going into Cambodia,' in fact, we did," Hagel said, referring to the Vietnam war. "So, Madam Secretary, when you set in motion the kind of policy that the president is talking about here, it's very, very dangerous."

During the Vietnam war, the Nixon administration denied U.S. troops were conducting raids into neighboring Cambodia to stop the flow of weapons to South Vietnam's communist insurgency.

The Bush administration says dramatic action must be taken in Iraq to halt alleged Iranian meddling.

Vice President Dick Cheney took that message to "Fox News Sunday," saying, "It's been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq. And the president has responded to that. ... I think it's exactly the right thing to do."

Tehran: U.S. violates 'diplomatic norms'

Iranian officials portray the U.S. assertions as trumped-up lies aimed at fomenting tension and backing "illegitimate" actions against Iranians in Iraq.

Tehran's complaints follow several steps by the U.S. military against Iranian officials in Iraq, including the detention last week of five people who the United States said are linked to the Iranian military. (Full story)

Seyed Mohammad-Ali Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, called the U.S. actions "illegal."

He accused the United States of violating "international conventions and diplomatic norms," and called on the United States "to immediately release the Iranian consular employees and pay for damages" that the military action caused to the building, Iran's government-run media outlet IRNA reported.

But the U.S. military, in a news release, said preliminary information revealed the five detained Iranians "are connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard - Qods Force, an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the government of Iraq and attack coalition forces."

Iraqi FM cites 'brotherly relations'

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he phoned his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, on Friday to assure him that steps were being taken to free the five.

In a written statement, Zebari said he told Mottaki that he hoped the incident "would not affect the brotherly relations between the two peoples and the two neighbor countries."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he does not believe Bush is looking to open a front in Iran.

"But I think it's very, very important that if Iranians are in Iraq paying people to be suicide bombers, to help the training and equipping them ... it's vital that we go after them too. Everybody knows the Iranians are playing in Iraq and they are trying to drive us out of Iraq so they can assert their age-old ambitions for influence in the Middle East. Everybody knows that. If there's Iranians in Iraq who are doing bad things, go after them, and let's get them."

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National security adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday, the president wants to deal with Iran "diplomatically," but would not rule out the possibility of an attack on Iran .


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