updated 1/20/2005 10:29:19 AM ET 2005-01-20T15:29:19

President Mohammad Khatami said Thursday that the United States has too many problems in Iraq to attack Iran, but that his country has plans in place should Washington make any aggressive moves.

Khatami's remarks, made in an interview with Iran's state-run radio while the president was wrapping up a 10-day, seven-nation tour of Africa, marked the most senior response to recent reports indicating the United States may be considering military action against Iran. Khatami was expected to return from Uganda on Thursday.

"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.

Iran does not welcome tension with the United States, he said, but is ready to defend itself if attacked.

"The U.S. is deeply engaged in Iraq," he said, then 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.

On Monday, President Bush said on NBC's "Today" show 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.

'Secret reconnaissance missions'
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.

In recent weeks, reports have emerged in the Iranian media that spying devices have been discovered from unidentified flying objects shot down by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards near Iran's nuclear facilities. But representatives from the Guards have refused to comment on the reports.

Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said Monday that Iran has developed a strong military capability and will deter any attacks against it. He also did not provide details, but had noted in November 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 elite Revolutionary Guards with it in July 2003. 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 have many Iranians worried America may have Iran in its military sites. Bush has accused Iran of being part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq.

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