WASHINGTON, Jan 16: The White House said on Tuesday that the United States has no plan to invade Iran but would not allow Iranian citizens to kill American soldiers in Iraq. The clarification followed President Bush’s warning to his Iranian counterpart earlier this week, saying that the United States would not allow Iran to stir troubles inside Iraq.

But at a White House press briefing, spokesman Tony Snow dispelled the impression that Mr Bush was contemplating a military action against Iran. “We are not planning to invade Iran,” he said. But he also said that the United States will protect its interests “when it comes to people on Iraqi soil trying to kill Americans or trying to kill Iraqis.”

When a reporter asked why shouldn’t the United States go after Iran if it believed the Iranians were harming US soldiers and running training camps for Iraqi insurgents, the White House press secretary said: “I am not going to talk about a debate proposition on a foreign policy issue.”

Last week, US forces in Iraq claimed catching five Iranians who they said were linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Iran insists the detainees are all consular officials.

But the Iranian denial did not prevent Mr Bush from warning Tehran. "If we catch your people inside (Iraq) harming US citizens or Iraqi citizens you know we will deal with them,” he said.

Asked if he agreed with US military officers that Iranian agents were killing US troops in Iraq, Mr Bush told CBS television: "I think what they're saying ... is that the Iranians are providing equipment that is killing Americans, and therefore, either way its' unacceptable."

The president’s unusually harsh statement created hype in the media with at least one newspaper claiming that the United States may launch military strikes against Iran as early as April this year.

Vice President Dick Cheney added to such speculations when he said earlier this week that the US would not allow Iran to become a regional power in the Middle East.

"If you go and talk with the Gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried," Mr Cheney told Fox News. He described how the Iranians "sit astride the Straits of Hormuz" and its oil-shipping channels, how they support Hamas and Hezbollah.

"So the threat that Iran represents is growing," he said, in words reminiscent of how he once built a case against Saddam Hussein. "It's multidimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region."

This strengthens the argument of the so-called Iran-hawks in Washington who say that the Bush administration needs to assure its allies that despites its preoccupation with Iraq, it will not allow Iran to become a regional power.

Updated Jan 17, 2007 12:00am

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