Russia's defense minister defended his country's sale of arms to Iran, saying in an interview published Monday that air defense missile systems it is delivering will not upset the regional balance of power.
Russia said on Friday that it had begun delivery of the Tor-M1 systems under a contract signed in December.
"Every country is allowed to deliver arms to another as long as it is not evading any sanctions in doing so," Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying by the German weekly Der Spiegel.
"We are selling only a limited range of defensive weapons," he added. "The Tor-M1 air defense system, for example, has no influence on the balance of power in the region because it only has a range of up to 40 kilometers," or 25 miles.
The United States called on all countries last spring to stop all arms exports to Iran, as well as ending all nuclear cooperation with it to put pressure on Tehran to halt uranium enrichment activities. Israel, too, has severely criticized arms deals with Iran.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the United States and its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop weapons.
The Tor-M1 deal, involving conventional weapons, does not violate any international agreements.
Russia also has a lucrative contract to build Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is nearly complete. Ivanov said he was "absolutely sure" that Iran would not be able to build a bomb using its technology, Der Spiegel reported.
"There is no enrichment in Bushehr," he was quoted as saying. "We are not delivering weapons-capable uranium, and the depleted fuel rods will be brought back to Russia."
The U.N. Security Council, where Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member, is currently stalemated on the severity of sanctions that should be imposed on Iran for defying its demand to cease uranium enrichment.
"As far as possible sanctions are concerned: they should on no account be all-embracing," Ivanov said in the interview.
"Otherwise, Iran could go the way of North Korea and chase IAEA inspectors out of the country - and, God forbid, leave the (Nuclear) Nonproliferation Treaty. Then no one will know what is going on in Iran."
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