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New U.S. Forces Commander: Iran War Talk 'Distracting'

The Navy admiral tapped to take command of U.S. forces in the Middle East said any speculation of war with Iran is "unhelpful" and only serves to "up the ante of fear and uncertainty."

Adm. William J. Fallon told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that Iraq and Afghanistan are priority tasks for the United States in the Middle East. Fighting a war with Iran is not something the U.S. wants, he said.

"Some in the world are talking some fear of alleged imminent attack by the U.S. on Iran," Fallon said. It "serves no good purpose, (is) unhelpful, distracting and just serving to up the ante of fear and uncertainty."

Speculation that the U.S. may be planning to attack Iran rose this year after President Bush announced plans to send an additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates later said the carrier and its accompanying ships were sent to show Tehran that the Iraq war was not making the U.S. vulnerable.

The United States also has accused Iran of supplying money, weapons components and training to Shiite militia in Iraq, as well as technology for roadside bombs. Iran has denied the allegations, saying it only has political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites.

Fallon, who has been confirmed by the Senate to succeed Army Gen. John Abizaid at the Central Command next month, spoke at his Pacific Command headquarters from where he oversees U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

Fallon reiterated U.S. allegations that Iran is responsible for supporting some of the violence in Iraq. But he expressed hope Tehran would change course and start to play a constructive role.

"Of significant note, I believe, is the role that Iran is playing directly or indirectly, in fomenting, perpetuating, instability inside Iraq," Fallon said.

Fallon said he believed Iran could help lower violence in Iraq and Afghanistan — countries on either side of Tehran's borders — but he hadn't yet seen any sign Iran was willing to lend its assistance.

"I believe that Iran could and should be playing a significant part. How that comes about remains to be seen," Fallon said. "But the idea that we have yet another conflict in this region strikes me as not where we want to go, and not what we want to be engaged in."

The admiral, who will be the first sailor to lead the Central Command, said he looks forward to seeking suggestions from people in the region on how Iran could help lower the violence.

U.S. military leaders "are trying to determine exactly what kind of role Iran is going to play in the future — whether they will be helpful or unhelpful, the degree which they will cooperate in efforts to stabilize Iraq," Fallon said.

The U.S. Senate confirmed Fallon's nomination to head the Tampa, Fla.-based Central Command last week. But he's not expected to take command of U.S. troops in the Middle East until early next month.

Fallon has headed the Pacific Command overseeing U.S. forces across the Asia-Pacific region for nearly two years, where he placed a priority on expanding military exchanges with China to reduce the potential for miscalculation on either side.

He also oversaw the reestablishment two years ago of military-to-military ties with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Washington cut off military ties with Jakarta in 1999 when Indonesian troops ravaged East Timor during the territory's break from the archipelago.