Iran TerrorismMullen: Iranian arms probably were bound for Gaza

Mullen: Iranian arms probably were bound for Gaza

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ImageAP: The nation's top military officer said Tuesday the United States did all it could to intercept a suspected arms shipment to Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, but its hands were tied.

The Associated Press

By ANNE GEARAN

ImageWASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's top military officer said Tuesday the United States did all it could to intercept a suspected arms shipment to Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, but its hands were tied.

Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it is too soon to tell whether the prospect of new U.S. engagement with Iran will bear fruit.

Mullen confirmed that a Cypriot-flagged ship intercepted in the Red Sea last week was carrying Iranian arms and that U.S. authorities suspect that the shipment was ultimately bound for the Gaza Strip, where Hamas and Israel are observing a shaky truce after three weeks of fighting.

"The United States did as much as we could do legally," Mullen said, adding that he would like more authority to act in such cases. "We were not authorized to seize the weapons or do anything like that."

The Navy searched the ship with permission of the captain and found small munitions, military officials said.

The vessel was allowed to continue its voyage after the search, and Mullen said the ship was expected in port in Syria this week.

Israel launched a 22-day offensive late last month on Hamas-controlled Gaza to try to permanently halt years of militant rocket fire on growing numbers of Israelis and to halt the smuggling of arms that turned Hamas into a threat to much of southern Israel.

Mullen said he long has favored approaches to Iran that would be a strategic benefit to the United States. Stability in Afghanistan is in both nations' interest, he said.

"To the degree that we are able to dialogue with them, find some mutual interests, there is potential there for moving ahead together."

He offered a heavy dose of caution.

"Iran is unhelpful in many, many ways in many, many areas, and so I wouldn't be overly optimistic at this point," Gates told reporters at the Foreign Press Center.

Earlier Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Iran had a "clear opportunity" to engage more productively on its nuclear program and other issues in light of President Barack Obama's intention to change the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

Clinton said Obama's first days in office have made it clear that a more open Iranian approach to the international community could benefit Iran. She said this was reflected in statements Obama made in an interview Monday with an Arab TV network.

"There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community," she said. "Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them."

Obama told the Al-Arabiya news channel that he wanted to communicate to Muslims that "the Americans are not your enemy." He condemned Iran's threats to destroy Israel and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but said "it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress."

Clinton, who criticized Obama for his willingness to speak without conditions with leaders of rogue nations like Iran during their contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, told reporters that the administration is undertaking a wide-ranging and comprehensive survey of U.S. policy options toward Iran. She did not elaborate.

Clinton's comments came one day after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration will engage in "direct diplomacy" with Iran.

Not since before the 1979 Iranian revolution are U.S. officials believed to have conducted wide-ranging direct diplomacy with Iranian officials. Rice said Iran must meet U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before any talks on its nuclear program.

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