'No obstacles over Iran arms deals'

Russian official says "No formal bans bar delivery of any weapons to Iran."

Anatoly Isaikin Rosoboronexport  311 (photo credit: AP)
Anatoly Isaikin Rosoboronexport 311
(photo credit: AP)
Russia still considers Irana valuable customer for its weapons, a top arms trade official saidThursday, issuing a reassuring message to Teheran despite recentindications of Moscow's support for tougher Western sanctions.

AnatolyIsaikin, the head of the state arms trader Rosoboronexport, said nointernational agreements bar Russia from selling weapons to Teheran. Thestatement marked another step in a delicate diplomatic game Moscow hasbeen playing in a hope of maintaining good ties with the Islamic republic withoutangering the West.

Russia signed a 2007 contract to sell thepowerful S-300 air defense missiles to Teheran, but so far has notdelivered any. No reason has been given for the delay, but Israel andthe 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 Corpsas well financial institutions under existing UN sanctionsresolutions, US officials said.

Isaikin's comments followedWednesday's statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov whoshowed a cautious support for possible new sanctions against Teheranafter 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'sfirst nuclear power plant. Its launch has been repeatedly delayed andis 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. Moscowhas particularly appreciated Teheran's refusal to support Islamicinsurgents in Chechnya and other Russian provinces in the volatileNorth Caucasus region.