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Asia Crisis

US military criticizes Iran but says no strike plan

WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Wednesday dismissed speculation that it was drafting new plans to attack Iran but again charged Tehran with supporting Iraqi militias and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the military's director of strategic plans, said that while the Pentagon had plans on the shelf for numerous potential conflicts around the world, there had been no order for officers to advance new plans for an Iran strike.

"There has been no order, specific order to plan in any particular area of the world," Sattler told reporters at the Pentagon.

Asked specifically if the military was ordered to plan an Iran strike, he said, "No."

Sattler's comments come as hostile rhetoric and close encounters in the Gulf have fueled speculation that Washington may be planning some sort of military action against Iran.

The appearance of a second U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf this week has further fed that concern. The Navy said the presence of two carriers was temporary and part of a routine transition, as one carrier relieves the other in that area.

But Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, the military's operations director, said the presence of two carriers was meant to signal the U.S. military's capabilities to the region. Speaking at the same Pentagon news conference, he said it was not a message directed solely at Iran.

"It's a message to all nations that the United States possesses the capability and the will to operate global," he said. "So this is an opportunity to do that."

EVIDENCE TO MALIKI

Washington accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under cover of an energy program. It also says Iran fuels violence in Iraq by supporting Shi'ite militias with weapons and training.

Tehran rejects both charges and blames violence in Iraq on the presence of U.S. troops.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, had been expected to lay out publicly new evidence that Iran continues to support Iraqi militias, providing newly made weapons, despite promising Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that it would halt those activities.

But on Wednesday, U.S. defense officials said that evidence was instead given to Iraqi officials with an expectation that Maliki would confront Tehran with the information.

"The Iraqis wish to first show what they have to the Iranian government before they show the world," said one defense officials traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Mexico.

"First and foremost, it's an attempt to say: 'Hey, listen, we know what you're up to. This is not helpful. Cut it out!'," the official said.

The U.S. military also raised new accusations of Iranian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ham said the military had evidence that Tehran was continuing to send weapons and material to the Taliban, particularly in western Afghanistan. Previously, U.S. defense officials said Iranian involvement in Afghanistan was limited to a few small arms shipments that ended in August 2007.

"There is indication that the Iranian support of the Taliban has continued," Ham said. "We don't believe it to be at the same level which they have provided fighters and weapons into Iraq, but there is some clear evidence."

He said the number of attacks in Afghanistan was slightly higher than a year ago, but would not provide details. (Additional reporting by David Morgan in Mexico City; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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