Russia Calls Sale of Missiles to Iran 'Defensive'
July 7, 2008 - 8:16 PM
Moscow (CNSNews.com) - Russia says its latest weapons sale to Iran, comprising more than $1 billion worth of missiles and other defense systems, is "exclusively defensive."
The deal violates no international agreements, including those relating to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Moscow's foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said at the weekend.
Citing Russian military industry sources, the Interfax news agency reported Friday that Russia and Iran had signed an agreement for the sale of up to 30 Tor-M1 air defense systems, starting in 2006.
The Tor-M1 system, whose NATO designation is SA-15 Gauntlet, is capable of identifying up to 48 targets and tracing and firing at two targets simultaneously, at a height of up to 6,000 meters.
According to the Vedomosti business daily, the weapons would pose a risk to any future air strike by U.S. or Israeli planes targeting Iran's controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is being built with Russian help.
Vedomosti said it was the largest Russian military sale to Iran in five years.
Israel at the weekend voiced concern at news of the sale. "When a country sells arms to Iran, it strengthens the military strength of the state and serves only the interests of the most negative elements in the region," a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as telling a wire agency.
Israel on Friday carried out a successful test of an anti-missile system, designed to protect the Jewish state against threats like Iran's Shahab-3 long-range missile.
News of the Russia-Iran deal coincided with a visit to Moscow by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns.
The American diplomat told Ekho Moskvy radio he had raised the issue with Russia's foreign ministry.
"You can understand why we do not support the sale of weapons to such a country," he said. "We believe Russia is a country that has influence over Iran, and we want Iran to return to negotiations [over its nuclear programs]," he said.
In the early 1990s, Russia delivered three diesel submarines, eight MiG-29 fighters and a T-72 tank production license to Iran, as part of a series of deals dating back to the 1980s.
In 1995, then-Vice President Al Gore and the then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin signed a memorandum obliging Russia to stop deliveries of weaponry systems to Iran by December 31, 2001, and to refrain from signing any new arms deals with the country.
But Russia pulled out of the deal in 2000.
Iran is reported to be interested in other weaponry from Russia, including medium- and long-range air defense missiles, ground-to-ground missiles, fighter jets, armored infantry vehicles, and anti-ship missile systems that would help Tehran control crucial sea routes in the Persian Gulf.
Military relations between Russia and Iran have been steadily deepening since March 21 when then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami become the first Iranian leader to visit Moscow in 27 years.
He and Putin signed a cooperation treaty aimed at strengthening "partner-like, neighborly relations," while stopping short of a strategic partnership.
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