NATO has "no intention whatsoever" of intervening in Iran, the alliance's top official said in response to reports that some governments may be planning a military strike against Tehran's nuclear program.
The U.S. and other leading Western governments believe that Iran is intending to develop a nuclear arsenal, and Tehran's failure to suspend its nuclear activities has already led to several sets of U.N. sanctions. But Iran maintains its nuclear program is exclusively civilian, aimed only at producing electricity.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly trying to persuade his Cabinet to authorize a strike. Israel, which considers Tehran its biggest threat, has successfully tested a missile believed capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Iran.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO supports political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear issue and urged Iran to comply with U.N. resolutions and stop its uranium enrichment programs.
"Let me stress that NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Iran, and NATO is not engaged as an alliance in the Iran question," he said.
However, Fogh Rasmussen declined to comment on reports that Israeli air force jets conducted drills last week at a NATO air base in Italy. They were said to be practicing long-range sorties from the Decimomannu base on the Sardinia island and included combat aircraft, aerial refueling tankers and electronic warfare and control planes.
Later Thursday, Italian Defense Ministry spokesman Capt. Emiliano Biasco confirmed that an exercise involving Israel and other countries was held at Decimomannu in late October. He declined to give more details.
NATO cooperates closely with Israel as part of a group of friendly nations in the region, known as the Mediterranean Dialogue. Israeli warships have participated in exercises with NATO ships in the eastern Mediterranean.
Fogh Rasmussen visited the Jewish state earlier this year.
Tensions in the Middle East have peaked just after Turkey _ a NATO member and Iran's neighbor _ agreed in September to host an early warning radar as part of a planned NATO missile defense system aimed at countering a possible threat from Iranian missiles.
Iran has blamed Israel and the United States for disruptions in its nuclear program, including the mysterious assassinations of a string of Iranian nuclear scientists and a computer virus that wiped out some of Iran's nuclear centrifuges.
Tehran has also insisted that the international community deal with the issue of Israel's own nuclear weapons. The Jewish state is widely believed to have accumulated a sizable arsenal, although it has never officially acknowledged possession of such weapons.
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