WASHINGTON - US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Sunday said he had never authorized sending reconnaisance planes over Iran to spy on the country's alleged nuclear program, contrary to Tehran's assertions.
"I checked and I know we had no US aircraft doing what ... Iran was saying," Rumsfeld told ABC television's "This Week" program.
"What investigations we've been able to undertake have suggested that the charge was false -- either intentionally or through ignorance, and that it may very well have been Iranian air activity in that country by elements of the government that were not coordinating with other elements of the Iranian government," the defense chief said.
Rumsfeld was less categorical in his denial when pressed about whether he had ever authorized any US military overflights of Iran during his tenure as defense secretary.
"I don't think I have, but I don't know. I'd have to check. And I don't know that I'd answer it if I did find out that we had, but I don't believe we have," he said.
When asked whether any US intelligence agencies might have organized such flights, he responded: "I can't speak for intelligence agencies, but not to my knowledge."
Rumsfeld also denied knowing about reports that Iran has protested to the United States about US surveillance flights on their territory and that that protest was forwarded to the Pentagon.
"I don't know about the protest," he told ABC.
Recent US news reports said US drones have been overflying Iran since April 2004, gathering intelligence on Iran's nuclear program and probing for weaknesses in Iran's air defenses.
The reported spy flights have raised concerns about US military preparations for possible strikes on suspected Iranian nuclear weapons sites.
US officials have refused to rule out a military option, but have indicated they are giving international diplomatic efforts a try first.