Iran has plans to defend itself should the United States make any aggressive moves, President Mohammad Khatami said Thursday, but he added that the possibility of an attack "is very low" because Washington has too many problems in Iraq.
Khatami's remarks in an interview with state-run television marked the most senior response tosuggesting the United States may be considering military action against Iran.
"The possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran is very low. We think America is not in a position to take a lunatic action of attacking Iran," Khatami said. "The U.S. is deeply engaged in Iraq."
But he added, "We move forward with full vigilance. We don't welcome any tension but if, God forbid, it commits an act of aggression, we have prepared ourselves. We have plans for it."
He did not elaborate on how Iran would respond or defend itself.
Khatami made the comments while wrapping up a 10-day, seven-nation tour of Africa. He was expected to return from Uganda on Thursday.
On Monday, President Bush said in a broadcast interview that his administration won't rule out the possibility of using military force against Iran over its controversial nuclear program. "I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table," he said.
Also Monday, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine that the Bush administration had been "conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer" for the purpose of gathering intelligence and targeting information.
White House officials rejected that report as inaccurate, but top U.S. officials have articulated a tough U.S. policy toward Iran. Beyond years of animosity between the two countries, Washington considers Iran's nuclear program a threat, maintaining it is aimed at developing nuclear weapons not as an energy resource as Iran claims.
Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said Monday that Iran has developed a strong military capability and will deter any attacks. He also did not provide details, but in November he noted that Iran has been able to mass produce its Shahab-3 missile, which is capable of reaching Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Iran last successfully tested the medium-range missile in 2002 before equipping its Revolutionary Guards with it the next year. Shamkhani repeatedly has said Iran is constantly improving the range and accuracy of its missiles in response to efforts by Israel to upgrade its missile systems.
The U.S.-led toppling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has many Iranians worried about Washington's intentions toward Iran. Mr. Bush has accused Iran of being part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and Saddam's Iraq.
In London, Iranian Ambassador Mohammed Hossein Adeli said Mr. Bush should not risk further damaging Washington's standing in the world by attacking Iran.
"The United States should take lessons from its past mistakes, adopt a more responsible attitude and have a more multilateral approach toward world issues," he told BBC radio when asked about the reports of U.S. reconnaissance missions in Iraq.
By Ali Akbar Dareini