By Elise Labott
Brussels, Belgium (CNN) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged NATO members on Tuesday to prepare for the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, while Russia's foreign minister accused the West of politicizing the search for such weapons, comparing it to the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Though NATO has flatly ruled out military intervention, Kerry told foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, that "moving forward, we should consider NATO's role as it relates to the Syrian crisis."
In his first address to NATO since taking office in February, Kerry noted that ongoing contingency planning for Syria was "an appropriate undertaking for the alliance."
"We should also carefully and collectively consider how NATO is prepared to respond to protect its members from a Syrian threat, including any potential chemical weapons threat," Kerry said, according to prepared remarks.
His remarks came amid heightened concern about the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Britain and France have said there is reason to suspect that President Bashar al-Assad has used such weapons and have asked the U.N. to investigate.
On Tuesday, a senior Israeli official claimed evidence of chemical weapons use by Syria, but Kerry said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not confirm the allegation in a phone call earlier in the day. He said the U.S. could not confirm that chemical weapons were used in Syria, an act President Obama had said would be a "red line" and a "game changer" for more robust U.S. action.
NATO remains conflicted about the two-year civil war, which the U.N. estimates has killed more than 70,000 people. While members are concerned about the mounting causalities, millions of refugees and the potential for a wider regional spillover, they are loath to become embroiled in another Middle Eastern conflict.
After the meeting, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted that "the situation in Syria has dramatically deteriorated" and "continues to pose a threat to regional stability."
He said the alliance is "extremely concerned about the use of ballistic missiles in Syria and the possible use of chemical weapons."
He said NATO has not been asked to intervene but suggested that it could be drawn further into the crisis to address spillover into its backyard.
"There is no call for NATO to play a role, but if these challenges remain unaddressed, they could directly affect our own security," he said. "So we will continue to remain extremely vigilant."
Turkey, a NATO member, borders Syria and would be the ally most at risk from a Syrian attack. NATO has deployed Patriot missile batteries in Turkey.
The NATO ministers also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who warned that reports of chemical weapons in Syria must be carefully investigated to avoid a repetition of the "Iraqi scenario" in which unconfirmed allegations that the regime of Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction were the basis for the U.S.-led invasion.
He accused Western nations of trying to "politicize the issue" and broadening the investigation. Experts were supposed to be sent to Syria to study the possible use of chemical weapons in Aleppo; instead, Lavrov said, investigators demanded access to all facilities in Syria and the right to interview all Syrian citizens.
"I believe that is too much," he said.
Kerry said the Obama administration is "looking at every option that could possibly end the violence and usher in a political transition" as spelled out in the "Geneva communique," a plan proposed last year for negotiations between members of the opposition and the Syrian regime. The U.S., Russia and European and Middle Eastern nations have all signed on to the plan.
Although he acknowledged a "difference of opinion" between Russia and the U.S. with respect to how al-Assad might leave Syria, he said that Moscow and Washington were on the same page in believing that al-Assad's ouster "may either be inevitable or necessary" for a political solution.
Lavrov said Russia is committed to a political solution but mentioned no progress in his talks with NATO or in a closed-door meeting with Kerry.
Kerry and Lavrov also talked about U.S. plans for deploying a missile defense system in Europe. Lavrov said Russia was studying a new U.S. proposal to redesign the system but said Moscow wanted "guarantees" that the shield was targeting missile threats from countries like Iran and North Korea and not intended to deter Russia's capability.
The NATO ministers also discussed how to support Afghanistan after 2014, when NATO forces shift from a combat to support role. Afghan President Hamid Karzai joined the talks.
On Wednesday, Kerry will host a meeting with Afghan and Pakistani leaders, including Karzai and Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.