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IRAN: Russia backtracks on S-300 missile systems for Tehran

February 24, 2010 | 10:15 am


After a mysterious delay and a public challenge by Tehran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to backtrack on Russia's pledge to supply S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran, telling  Moscow's official state news agency on Wednesday that Russia "has never taken actions that could cause the destabilization of certain regions."

"There are issues that need to be resolved before [the contract] is executed," he said, referring to a deal that was signed in 2005. "We hope that all countries supplying arms, and not only defensive ones but also those that are killing our peacekeepers, will treat this issue in the same way."

Russia has been under pressure by the U.S. and Israel not to sell weapons to Iran, which has been accused of supplying arms to militant groups abroad as well as posing an existential threat to Israel with its nuclear program.

The S-300 system is capable of hitting aircraft up to 90 miles away and tracking 100 targets at a time, and could be used in case of an Israeli air attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

But last week, Russia announced it would delay the shipment due to "technical problems" just one day after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow.

Lavrov's latest comments suggest Russia is considering canceling the contract altogether rather than be seen as supplying weapons to Iran as the world powers contemplate stricter sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The Iranians are losing patience and have begun to lash out at Russia in the press.

On Feb. 21, the reformist Iranian newspaper Ettemad ran a report under the headline "Russia's contradictory remarks on delivery of S-300 to Iran," in which the paper accused Russia of delaying the delivery for political reasons.

"We are not a nation to sit with fingers crossed if Russia fails to meet its obligations," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, was quoted as saying Wednesday.

"We will resolve our problem by mastering the technology to produce S-300 missiles," he told the Mehr news agency

The Russian-Iranian missile stalemate comes on the heels of a controversy over Israel's Iron Dome rocket defense system, which critics say is ineffective and costly.

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Russian S-300 missiles can hit aircraft up to 90 miles away. Credit: AFP