Anatoly Isaikin Rosoboronexport 311.
(photo credit: AP)
Russia still considers Iran
a valuable customer for its weapons, a top arms trade official said
Thursday, issuing a reassuring message to Teheran despite recent
indications of Moscow's support for tougher Western sanctions.
Isaikin, the head of the state arms trader Rosoboronexport, said no
international agreements bar Russia from selling weapons to Teheran. The
statement marked another step in a delicate diplomatic game Moscow has
been playing in a hope of maintaining good ties with the Islamic republic without
angering the West.
Russia signed a 2007 contract to sell the
powerful S-300 air defense missiles to Teheran, but so far has not
delivered any. No reason has been given for the delay, but Israel and
the United States strongly objected to Iran obtaining the long-range missiles, which would significantly boost the country's air defense capability.
Isaikin dodged a question if and when Russia could fulfill the contract, but he emphasized Russia's right to provide Iran with weapons.
"There are no formal bans which would bar the delivery of any types of weapons to Iran," he said at a news conference, adding that Russia's arms trade with Iran isn't covered under current UN sanctions.
The Obama administration is preparing to circulate proposed tougher new sanctions against Iran,
which would target elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps
as well financial institutions under existing UN sanctions
resolutions, US officials said.
Isaikin's comments followed
Wednesday's statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who
showed a cautious support for possible new sanctions against Teheran
after talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Lavrov's comments differed from previous Russian statements opposing any new sanctions against its important economic partner, Iran. Russia has been building Iran's
first nuclear power plant. Its launch has been repeatedly delayed and
is now scheduled for some unspecified time early this year.
Russia has also provided Iran with some weapons and spare parts for Soviet-built military hardware, although none of them were as powerful as the S-300.
Russia has walked a fine line on Iran for years. It is one of the six powers leading efforts to ensure Iran does not develop an atomic bomb. But it also has tried to maintain friendly ties with Iran,
a regional power close to Russia's vulnerable southern flank. Moscow
has particularly appreciated Teheran's refusal to support Islamic
insurgents in Chechnya and other Russian provinces in the volatile
North Caucasus region.