In yo face Bush!Admiral William Fallon, the top US military commander for the Middle East, has stepped down from his post amid reports he disagreed with the US president, George Bush, over his policies towards Iran.
Fallon became head of US Central
Command in 2007 [GALLO/GETTY]
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said Fallon had asked for permission to retire and he had agreed.
An article in Esquire magazine last week said Admiral Fallon was opposed to the US taking military action against Iran over its nuclear programme.
Bush later issued a statement praised the outgoing admiral despite the apparent rift.
"Admiral Fallon's job has been to help ensure that America's military forces are ready to meet the threats of an often troubled region of the world, and he deserves considerable credit for progress that has been made there, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan," Bush said.
Gates himself told a news conference that he approved Admiral Fallon's request to retire with "reluctance and regret".
Fallon, who has served in the US Navy for 41 years, became head of US Central Command in March 2007, replacing Army General John Abizaid, who retired.
He was previously head of US Pacific Command.
In a statement read by Gates, Fallon said that the recent reports of a rift between himself and the US president "have become a distraction at a critical time and hamper efforts in the Centcom region."
"Although I don't believe there have ever been any differences about the objectives of our policy in the Central Command area of responsibility, the simple perception that there is makes it difficult for me to effectively serve America's interests there."
The Esquire article said Fallon's reported disagreements with Bush over his foreign policy on Iran could lead to his dismissal in favour of someone "more pliable".
It also said that, were this to happen, it could be taken as a sign that the US president and vice-president intended to take military action against Iran "before the end of this year and don't want a commander standing in their way".
However Gates dismissed the magazine's claims as "ridiculous", adding Fallon had made the decision to retire of his own volition.
"I think this is a cumulative kind of thing," he said in reference to the circumstances around Fallon's decision to quit.
"It isn't the result of any one article or any one issue."
Army Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, Fallon's deputy at Central Command, was named to replace the admiral when he leaves at the end of the month.
His departure comes as the Pentagon prepares to make recommendations on the scope of any possible reduction in US troop numbers from Iraq.
Fallon was supposed to give an assessment as the regional commander, but Gates said that as the review was "well advanced" it would represent Fallon's views.
The US and other Western powers have accused Iran for years of attempting to develop nuclear weapons, however Iran rejects the accusations, saying their programme is solely for peaceful purposes.