Russia to weigh Syrian weapons sales

Assad visiting Moscow; Syria offers to allow deployment of Russian missile system on its soil.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Moscow will consider an appeal by Syrian President Bashar Assad president to sell it new weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday. He did not say which weapons Syria seeks. Russia's arms trade with Syria has provoked tension with Israel and the United States. Past deals have included the sale of Russia's technologically advanced Strelets system. The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying Russia was prepared to sell Syria weapons that "have a defensive character and that do not in any way interfere with the strategic balance in the region." Lavrov spoke after a meeting Thursday between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Assad. Assad arrived in Russia on Wednesday for a two-day visit during which he is seeking to purchase weapons, including long-range anti-aircraft missiles. Reportedly, the Syrian president offered to allow Moscow to deploy Russian Iskander missiles in its territory. The Iskander (known by NATO as the SS-26 Stone) is a short-range, solid fuel-propelled missile system. The offer was publicized on Wednesday, the same day the United States signed an agreement with Poland to place a defensive missile system on Polish soil. President Shimon Peres was worried about the possibility that Russian missiles would be deployed in Syria, Army Radio reported Thursday. "Weapons of mass destruction are less dangerous without a means for launching them, but once a launching system is developed the situation will be terrible," Peres said. He added that the deployment of a Russian missile system on Syrian soil would jeopardize peace not only in the Middle East, but in the whole world. Likud MK Silvan Shalom said Thursday that "Israel should demand that Russia not arm Israel's enemies. Arming Syria will lead to a strategic change in the Middle East, destabilizing the area and the entire world." However, Russian charge d'affaires to Israel Anatoly Yurkov tried to calm Israeli concerns on Thursday. Yurkov told Channel 2: "We will not do anything that could damage Israel, and we will not arm Syria with advanced and effective weapons that could damage the equilibrium." Regarding Israel's role in Georgia, Yurkov said that Israel's weapons sales to Georgia were minimal in relation to the weapons supplied to Georgia by the US, France and Ukraine. "We appreciated the announcement by Israel's government that it is halting its arms deals with Georgia," the senior diplomat said. In an atmosphere of heightened tensions, Medvedev called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday night to affirm the ties between the two countries. According to Olmert's office, the two leaders talked about regional and bilateral issues and looked to advance relations between their nations. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this article