Moscow claims sale of Tor missiles doesn't change regional balance.
By AP, JPOST STAFFRussia has struck a deal to sell short-range, surface-to-air missiles to Iran, the defense minister said Monday, confirming reports that have raised concern in the United States and Israel.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov didn't give details. But Russian media have said that Moscow agreed in November to sell $1 billion worth of weapons to Iran, including up to 30 Tor-M1 missile systems over the next two years.
"A contract for the delivery of air defense Tor missiles to Iran has indeed been signed," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
"This unequivocally does not change the balance of forces in the region," Ivanov added. Tor M1 missiles are short-range, surface-to-air missiles already used by several other armed forces, including China.
Interfax said the Tor-M1 system could identify up to 48 targets and fire at two targets simultaneously at a height of up to 20,000 feet.
Referring to Russia as a friend and partner, the Bush administration on Monday still criticized the proposed deal.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, "We certainly do not feel that this is a sale that would serve the interests of us or the region."
Ereli said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns made the point in talks with Russian officials last week in Moscow.
"It's important to remember and underscore that Iran is a state sponsor of terror," Ereli said. "They have engaged in actions that we think are hostile and unhelpful."
"We view this proposed sale in that context," the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, IAEA chairman Muhammad ElBaradei on Monday confirmed assessments that Iran was only a few months away from creating an atomic bomb.
If Teheran indeed resumed its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take it only "a few months" to produce a nuclear bomb, El-Baradei told The Independent.
On the other hand, he warned, any attempt to resolve the crisis by non-diplomatic means would "open a Pandora's box. There would be efforts to isolate Iran; Iran would retaliate; and at the end of the day you have to go back to the negotiating table to find the solution."