Nato says it will consider a request by the African Union (AU) for support in Sudan's Darfur region, in what could be the alliance's first mission in Africa.
More than two million Darfur residents have been driven from their homes
Nato said the AU - whose troops monitor a fragile truce between Darfur rebels, government forces and pro-government militias - is seeking logistical help.
Nato ambassadors agreed "exploratory talks" should begin, a spokesman said.
About 180,000 people have been killed in the two-year-old conflict in Western Sudan, according to the UN.
Another two million have been driven from their homes.
The Sudanese authorities and Darfur's pro-government Arab militias are accused of war crimes against the region's black African population.
The conflict began in early 2003 after a rebel group began attacking government targets.
The government says it is reining in the militias and abiding by the terms of last year's ceasefire - which is being monitored by 2,200 AU troops and observers.
The African Union is due discuss a significant expansion of its restricted mandate in Sudan when it meets in Addis Ababa on Thursday.
The Khartoum government has said it is opposed to the presence of any forces other than those from the AU.