China, Russia and Iran expressed surprise and anger to learn that they are the targets of U.S. nuclear missiles despite their long running tensions with Washington.
The countries were responding to published reports of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, a classified report required by Congress that lists possible scenarios of nuclear weapons use against countries that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction.
Seven possibly nuclear nations were identified by the Defense Department in the review: China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia and Syria. Pakistan and India, both nuclear powers, were not named.
On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney played down the report, which first appeared in The Los Angeles Times on Saturday, and said, "Right now, today, the United States, on a day-to-day basis, does not target nuclear weapons on any nation."
Speaking in London with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cheney said press reports indicating that the document says the United States is preparing pre-emptive nuclear strikes against seven countries "is a bit over the top."
Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security Adviser Condoleezza Rice both did damage control Sunday on the weekend news shows saying nuclear weapons are not trained on any countries.
But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was not satisfied, and said he wanted answers to "make things clear and calm the international community, convincing it that the United States does not have such plans."
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, en route Monday to Washington on a previously scheduled trip, said he would ask Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for an explanation.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said, "China, like other countries, is deeply shocked" to be in the group of seven. China, he said has no weapons in its small nuclear arsenal targeted on the United States, with which it has an agreement not to target.
"The U.S. side bears the responsibility to make an explanation on this matter," Sun told the official Xinhua News Agency.
Iran, a member of the "axis of evil" that President Bush singled out in January, labeled the United States terrorists based on the report.
"The Islamic Republic believes that the era of using force to push forward international relations is long past, and those who resort to the logic of force follow exactly the same logic as terrorists, although they are in the position of power," government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told the Islamic official Republic news agency.
The Iraqi newspaper Babil, owned by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son, reported on the U.S. move without comment and officials said nothing. Iraq, another member of the axis of evil, is currently in the scopes of U.S. pilots monitoring the north and south no-fly zone. It is frequently mentioned as a potential next stop in the war against terrorism.
Other nations not cited in the U.S. report were not so upset by the report.
Japan's foreign ministry announced it opposes the use of weapons of mass destruction, but refused to comment on the document.
The Times of London editorialized that the nuclear policy review is merely an exercise for the U.S. military to be alert to nuclear perils in the world.
"This is less Dr. Strangelove than the territory that comes with superpower status," the paper said in an editorial.
But Greece's TA Nea newspaper said revelations about a nuclear posture don’t help the U.S. case against terrorism in the world.
"The return of the nuclear nightmare in an age when the world believed it had escaped it makes clear the weakness of the United States not only to convince people about the rightness of their views, but also to properly wield the power they have," reads the editorial.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.