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Georgia denies bases option for U.S. operation against Iran


TBILISI, February 20 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's top military officer denied a media report Monday that the United States was considering using military bases in Georgia for a possible attack on Iran.

"This is utterly absurd," said Levan Nikoleishvili, the chief of the General Staff.

The report appeared Monday in Israel's Jerusalem Post newspaper, which cited an anonymous source in the Georgian government as saying that Georgia, to the northwest of Iran, could give the U.S. access to its airbases and other facilities if it decided to press ahead with action.

According to the paper, the country could agree to such a scenario despite the threat of retaliatory action from Iran, which recently agreed to supply the South Caucasus republic with natural gas, unrest among Georgia's Muslim minority and a further deterioration in relations with Russia.

Georgia has already accepted considerable U.S. military aid and President Mikheil Saakashvili is known for his Western views and desire to take the country into NATO.

Rumors that the U.S. was holding talks with Georgia and Azerbaijan on establishing a military alliance appeared in late 2004 but were immediately scotched by Tbilisi and Baku, Jerusalem Post said.

The Jerusalem Post report came against the backdrop of an escalating crisis around Iran's controversial nuclear programs. Although Tehran has consistently said that it only wants to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes, the United States, Israel and members of the European Union have accused it of pursuing a covert weapons program. Washington has suggested that military action to end Iran's nuclear ambitions has not been ruled out, as both President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have said Iran must be prevented from developing nuclear weapons.

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