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The president of the United Arab Emirates forbade the US military from using bases in his country to attack or spy on Iran as mammoth US Navy maneuvers in the Gulf entered their second day.
Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who leads this key US ally, said Tuesday that the Emirates had assured Iran that it was not siding with Washington in its dispute over Teheran's nuclear program.
Leaders of Arab nations around the Gulf have grown increasingly uneasy with the tough US stance toward Iran, believing any outbreak of war would bring Iranian retaliation on their own soil, which lies in easy reach of Iranian missiles.
On Wednesday, the US Navy continued its largest show of force in the Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with 15 ships, 125 aircraft and 13,000 sailors taking part in an exercise that veered within a few dozen miles of Iran's coast.
The Emirates "refuses to use its territorial lands, air or waters for aggression against any other country, let alone a neighboring Muslim country with which we maintain historic and economic ties," Sheik Khalifa said in a statement carried on Emirates news agency WAM.
"We have assured the brothers in Iran ... that we are not a party in its dispute with the United States, that we will not allow any force to use our territories for military, security and espionage activities against Iran," Sheik Khalifa said.
The statement could prevent the US Air Force from flying intelligence missions over Iran with its squadron of U-2 and Global Hawk spy planes based at al-Dhafra Air Base near the Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.
The US Air Force has not altered its air operations in response to Sheik Khalifa's statement, said Air Force Lt.-Col. Mike Pierson, based in the neighboring Gulf state of Qatar.
"Our air operations continue as before," Pierson said. He declined to say whether U-2s were flying missions over Iran, but said the US Air Force only operates in international airspace or over countries that have granted permission.
The US Air Force also runs air-to-air refueling missions from the base and is engaged in training Emirates air force pilots on F-16 fighters recently purchased from the United States.
Sheik Khalifa also asked Iran to "be flexible and realistic and to respect international demands" to halt uranium enrichment, while cautioning the United States to use diplomatic means, not military action to solve the dispute.
Earlier this month, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani issued a similar message, saying Qatar wouldn't permit an attack on Iran to be launched from its soil.
Qatar is home to the enormous al-Udeid air base, from where US Air Force Lt.-Gen. Gary North commands all American air operations over the Mideast.
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