Iran announces purchase of missiles from Russia

Teheran says it will receive S-300 missiles, which experts say can intercept IAF, US aircraft.

s-300 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
s-300 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Russia is to supply Iran with new S-300 air defense systems, Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Wednesday, a sign of growing military cooperation between Moscow and Teheran. "The S-300 air defense system will be delivered to Iran on the basis of a contract signed with Russia in the past," state television quoted Najjar as saying. Najjar didn't say when or how many of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense systems would be shipped to Iran. The S-300s will reportedly be the first such shipment to the Persian country. The S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system is capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 90 miles and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet. Russian military officials boast that its capabilities outstrip the US Patriot missile system. Earlier this year, Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1 to Iran under a $700 million contract signed in December 2005. Najjar said S-300 missile was one of the most sophisticated weapons in the world, with a longer range than the Tor-M1 surface-to-air missiles. "While Tor-M1 missiles can hit targets at low altitude, S-300 missile have an extraordinary performance against targets at high altitude," Najjar said. Russian officials wouldn't comment on the Iranian statement, but the Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified source in the Russian military-industrial complex as saying that a contract for the missiles delivery had been signed several years ago and envisaged the delivery of several dozen S-300 missile systems. The S-300 is much more powerful and versatile weapon than the Tor-M1 missile systems supplied earlier which were capable of hitting aerial targets flying at up to 6,000 meters. Rumors about the sale of S-300 missile systems to Iran have circulated for a long time, but Russian officials consistently denied it. Military experts said that the S-300 missile systems could inflict a significant damage to the US or Israeli forces if they were to attack Iran. The announcement comes in the wake of talks in Teheran this week on ways to step up defense cooperation between teams led by Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, and Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, regarded as the father of Iran's missile program. Military experts, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said Wednesday that the Russian team included experts who had installed Tor-M1 in Iran. Dmitriyev also discussed training of Iranian specialists to operate the system. Dmitriyev told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency Wednesday that Russia will consider orders from Iran for arms. He didn't elaborate but said air defense and radar systems were priorities in Russian-Iranian defense discussions. Iran has not denied reports in November that it seeks to order Russian Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft to bolster its air defenses. Russia has already provided Iran with military products such as Kilo-Class submarines, MIG and Sukhoi military planes and bombers in the past decades. Iran-Russia ties stepped up after a landmark visit here by Russian President Vladimir Putin in October, in the face of increasing US threats against Iran over its controversial uranium enrichment program. Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr reactor makes it unnecessary for Iran to continue to enrich uranium. "We believe that Iran has no economic need to proceed with its program of uranium enrichment," Lavrov told the Vremya Novostei newspaper. "We are trying to persuade the Iranians that freezing the program is to their advantage as it would immediately lead to talks with all countries of the 'six', including the United States," he added. "Iran's agreement to this proposal is in everyone's interest," Lavrov stated. Such talks, he said, would aim to once and for all remove suspicions that Iran's nuclear program was anything other than peaceful. Lavrov stressed that all activities at the Bushehr reactor would remain under international supervision. "Our Iranian partners know that should there be the slightest deviation [from agreements], we will freeze our cooperation," he said. Lavrov's statements mirrored those made last week by US President George W. Bush, who said that he supported the Russian fuel shipments, stating that they proved that Teheran had no need to enrich uranium. "If the Russians are willing to do that, which I support, then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich. If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich," Bush said. Last week, senior Israeli diplomatic officials said that Moscow had no interest in seeing Iran gain an independent nuclear capability. "The Russians are not naive," one of the officials said, adding that Moscow wants to keep neighboring Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. "Our difference is over tactics, not goals," the official said. He said this difference in tactics would become clear in January, when the UN is expected to adopt a third Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran for its ongoing uranium enrichment. According to the official, the Russians will back about half of the items in the basket - the less serious ones - and not back others. The Chinese, the official said, are likely to back even fewer sanctions than the Russians. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.