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U.S. warns Russia against sale of advanced missiles to Iran

Tue., December 23, 2008 Kislev 26, 5769

mercredi 24 décembre 2008

By News Agencies

United States officials said Monday they want answers from Russia on whether it is selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

The U.S. insists such a move could threaten American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A senior military intelligence official said Monday the U.S. believes the sale of Russian long-range S-300 missiles is taking place. The advanced arms are said to be capable of repelling Israeli air strikes.

However, the official said it appears that no equipment has yet been delivered to Iran. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Russia’s state arms export agency said Monday it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. is seeking clarification from Russia.

Earlier Monday, the official Russian body that nominally oversees the country’s arms exports on Monday denied reports that Moscow has begun delivering the missiles to Iran.

« Reports on deliveries of S-300 systems are untrue, » the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation - a government agency that monitors Rosoboronexport - said in a statement.

But the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed Russian military official as saying the S-300 missiles would be delivered soon from Russian Defense Ministry warehouses.

« The S-300 systems are now being prepared for transfer to Rosoboronexport and their further shipment to the customer, » Interfax quoted the official as saying.

Iranian media reported Sunday that Russia had begun supplying the S-300s - an action that Israel and the United States have aggressively opposed.

Russia’s state arms export agency Rosoboronexport confirmed Monday that it was supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, but did not say whether they include the sophisticated long-range S-300 missiles.

Rosoboronexport said in a statement that only weapons of a defensive nature are being supplied to Iran, including anti-aircraft weaponry. It added that, previously, Tor-M1 air-defense systems were supplied to Iran.

In recent weeks, there have been conflicting official and unofficial statements about whether the S-300 deliveries would go forward.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in October that Moscow wouldn’t ship the missiles to countries located in volatile regions.

An Israeli Defense Ministry envoy last week traveled to Moscow to urge Russia not to send the weapons and Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Associated Press Monday that Israel was concerned enough by Sunday’s Iranian media report to ask Moscow about it.

« We were reassured that the report was groundless. We were told that Russia is keeping their promise to [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert that Russia wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize Israel’s security, » Palmor told AP.

Russia is developing military-technical cooperation with Iran in strict compliance with its international commitments stemming from nonproliferation agreements. This cooperation cannot be a source of concern for third countries, the statement said.

An official who answered the phone at Rosoboronexport headquarters said he could not answer whether Moscow had supplied S-300 missiles to Tehran.

Russia’s ambassador reassured Israel on Sunday that it stands by its commitment not to supply Iran with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles - despite an Iranian lawmaker’s statement that the system « is being delivered to Iran. »

« You will be the first to know about any progress or change in the matter of the missiles, » Pyotr Stegny, the Russian ambassador to Israel, told top Israeli officials.

Stegny said Russia was not planning to advance the missile deal and had not yet begun to deliver the missiles. « We are adhering to the agreements we reached during Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to Moscow. »

Russia made its initial commitment regarding this matter to Israel during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s October visit.

Israel and the United States fear that, were Iran to possess S-300 missiles, it would use them to protect its first nuclear power plant now under construction at Bushehr by Russian contractors. That would make any potential military strike on the plant much more difficult.

Israel, the United States and much of the international community believe that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is intended solely for civilian energy needs.

Bushehr is scheduled to go online early in 2009 after repeated delays.