The Bush administration is reiterating that it has no plans to go to war with Iran, despite concerns over Iranian weapons filtering into neighboring Iraq as well as the country's continued nuclear program in defiance of the United Nations.
The United States has long accused Iran of supporting militants in the Middle East, from Palestinian fighters to Iraqi Shiites. Last week, the Untied States displayed weapons found in Iraq allegedly provided by Iran, but admitted it is not clear whether Iran's top leaders specifically ordered such shipments.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" television program, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the Bush administration is determined to stop the flow of arms into Iraq that can be used against U.S. troops.
"We are going to do everything we can to intercept weapons that are making their way into the country. We are going to intercept them on the roads; we are going to intercept them in Baghdad. We will do everything we can to defend our people in Iraq."
Snow was asked if that meant that the administration is considering a military option for dealing with Iran.
"No. We are not planning to go across the border [into Iran]. But the president also is not going to rule out any alternatives. But for those who think we are beating the war drums, no plans to invade Iran."
That assertion was repeated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, one of President Bush's chief Republican allies in Congress. The senator spoke on CNN's "Late Edition" program.
"You are talking about Iranians inside Iraq trying to hurt American soldiers. Of course we are going to deal with them. But that is an entirely different issue from whether anybody is even suggesting the notion of going to war with Iran."
Iran has denied it is attempting to stoke sectarian strife in Iraq by arming the country's Shiite militants against minority Sunni fighters - or against U.S. troops. Tehran has said it supports Iraq's government, but opposes U.S. military presence in the country.
U.S. concerns over Iran extend beyond alleged arms shipments to Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Iran remains defiant regarding United Nations demands that it halt its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes, but which the international community suspects may be designed to produce atomic weapons.
Iran's foreign ministry says the government will not agree to suspend uranium enrichment as demanded by the UN Security Council, despite UN, sanctions imposed late last year barring the transfer of nuclear materials and technology to the Islamic republic. Iran faces a UN-imposed deadline Wednesday for halting enrichment activities.
Senator McConnell noted that multilateral negotiations have yielded a preliminary accord with North Korea over its nuclear program, and that similar diplomatic efforts will be pursued with Iran.