MEXICO CITY — After a brief period with two carriers in the Persian Gulf, the USS Harry S. Truman has redeployed from the region, replaced by the USS Abraham Lincoln, according to the Navy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that two carriers would be in the Persian Gulf briefly.

“This deployment has been planned for a long time,” Gates told reporters during what is a rare trip to Mexico by a defense secretary.

A Navy official said the move was part of normal rotation of forces as the Lincoln relieves the Truman, which had been conducting maritime security operations there.

Asked Tuesday if the brief overlap of carriers in the Gulf signaled an escalation of tensions with Iran, Gates said no, noting that the U.S. Navy presence in the Gulf goes up and down.

“I don’t see it as an escalation,” Gates said. “I think it could be seen though as a reminder.”

When asked later if the deployment was meant to send a message to Iran, Gates replied, “I think I’ll just leave it the way I did.”

Gates’ comments come after Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters last week that Iran continues to support extremists in Iraq despite pledges to curtail such activities.

Mullen also said that Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, is expected to issue a report outlining Iranian involvement in Iraq.

Asked if the Defense Department was making the case for strikes against Iran, Gates answered emphatically: “No.”

Gates’ trip to Mexico makes him only the second Defense secretary to visit that country. The last such visit was in 1995.

Gates said he spoke with Mexican officials about the Merida Initiative: President Bush’s request for up to $1.4 billion in equipment and training to help the Mexican government’s counternarcotics efforts.

Congress has yet to approve $500 million in such aid that is part of the fiscal 2008 supplemental request.

Gates said it would be a “real slap at Mexico” if Congress did not pass the funding.

He also said the Defense Department has no plans to use combat troops as part of counternarcotics efforts in Latin America.

“I don’t see an additional military component to this,” Gates said. “I think the Department of Homeland Security and the law enforcement agencies are the proper place to focus this effort.”

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