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Pentagon tries to cool talk on Petraeus
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon sought on Tuesday to cool talk about future assignments for Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, following reports he was a candidate for the top NATO command post.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates was very pleased with the leadership provided by both Petraeus and the current NATO commander, Army Gen. John Craddock.
"Until the secretary recommends to the president otherwise and the president approves otherwise, those two commanders will continue in the roles that they now have," he said. "But he greatly respects them both and appreciates their service."
Both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported this week that Petraeus -- a media-friendly counter-insurgency expert with a doctorate from Princeton University -- was being considered as the next NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.
Craddock has held the job only since December 2006 and NATO commanders normally serve three years in the post.
Petraeus has been praised for implementing a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq which U.S. officials say played a big role in a decline in violence there last year.
He has been in his current post, one of the most grueling in the U.S. military, since last February and had already served two previous tours in Iraq.
Asked if it was fair to say that deliberations were under way on the future roles of Petraeus and Craddock, Morrell said the Pentagon made "contingency plans for virtually everything in the world."
"It would be neglectful of us if we didn't think long term about how our commanders should be functioning and where they are best utilized and when," he said.
"But I wouldn't read too much into the fact that there are discussions ongoing in this building about the way ahead in Iraq or Afghanistan or Europe or any other command that we have," Morrell added.
The New York Times on Monday quoted an unnamed senior Pentagon official as saying Petraeus deserved a new assignment and noting that the NATO post was a highly prestigious job.
Petraeus was a candidate for the job but no final decisions had been taken, the official was quoted as saying.
There are a relatively small number of posts in the U.S. military for four-star generals.
The Times said one approach being considered was that Petraeus would be nominated and confirmed for the NATO post before the end of September, when the U.S. Congress is expected to break for the presidential election.
He might stay in Iraq for some time after that but would move to NATO before a new president takes office in January, it said.
(Reporting by Andrew Gray; editing by Stuart Grudgings)
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