Russia-Iran missile deal up in the air
TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran has left little doubt that it wants to buy a sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons system from Russia. The confusion in recent days has been over the question: Has Moscow said yes?
Under pressure from Israel, which views Iran as one of its major threats, Russian officials have promised not to sell S-300 mobile long-range defensive weapons to Iran. But a flurry of recent conflicting reports have muddled the matter.
On Monday, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman was cagey. Hassan Qashqavi told reporters that he had not "received any report" regarding the missiles from "relevant" officials.
"You know we have cultural, economic and political as well as defensive cooperation with Russia," he said. "I cannot confirm or deny the news. You all know that we have several agreements with Russia. Some of the agreements have been implemented, some not."
During the weekend, Iranian lawmaker Esmail Kosari, deputy head of a parliamentary committee, declared that Iran soon would take possession of the S-300 system, missile launchers that can shoot down aircraft at high altitudes.
Russian officials have been little help in providing clarity. Publicly, officials say they won't sell Iran the weapons. But Rosoboronexport, the state-owned company that manufacturers and distributes the weapons, yesterday issued a statement saying that Moscow would continue to sell Iran defensive weapons, including unspecified anti-aircraft systems.
"Notably, Russia develops military-technical cooperation with Iran in strict compliance with its international commitments deriving from nonproliferation regimes," the report said, according to the Interfax news agency. "This cooperation cannot be a source of concern for third countries."
Then came another report issued by the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service stating that "media reports claiming the alleged delivery of S-300 systems to Iran are wrong," according to Interfax.
That clear statement was followed by yet another report, this one citing an unnamed "military diplomatic" source in Moscow as stating that the S-300 systems are being packed up and prepared for shipment to Iran. "S-300 air defense systems are expected to be delivered from the defense ministry's warehouses," the source said.
It could be that Moscow has no intention of selling Iran the weapons but wants to make it clear to the West what damage it could do to Washington's strategies if it were so inclined. Last week, Russia agreed to donate 10 MiG-29 fighter jets to Lebanon, undermining a U.S. aim of not giving the Middle East nation any weapons that could threaten Israel.