Iran wants Russia to deliver on defense contract

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 10:00 AM

Iran urged Russia on Wednesday to deliver on an air-defense contract signed with Tehran and ignore Israeli pressures for delaying the deal that has also raised U.S. concerns.

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Moscow is under an obligation to carry out the contract to provide the S-300 missiles to Tehran.

Russia signed a contract in 2007 to sell S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran but hasn't yet made any deliveries or given an explanation for the delay.

The S-300 missiles are capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 90 miles (145 kilometers) and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet.

The United States and Israel strongly oppose the deal because it would significantly boost Iran's air defense capabilities at a time of heightened tension over the country's nuclear program.

"We have concluded a contract with Russia to buy S-300 missiles. We don't think it is appropriate for Russia to be seen in the world as an unreliable partner," Vahidi was quoted by the semiofficial ILNA news agency as saying.

Iranian and Russian officials have not disclosed the value of the deal, but Russian state media quoted military analysts as estimating that shelving the contract would cost Moscow about $1 billion in lost profits, plus $300-400 million in fines and penalties.

Israel fears that supplying S-300s to Iran would change the military balance in the Middle East and the issue has been the subject of intense speculation and diplomatic wrangling for months.

Israeli media have reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly flew to Moscow in September to discuss Russian arms sales to arch-foes Iran and Syria.

Israeli President Shimon Peres said in August that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised to reconsider the planned delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran.

Vahidi said Russia should ignore Israeli pressures and go ahead with the delivery.

"Russia has to fulfill (its obligations under) the contract and not be influenced by Zionist pressures," ILNA quoted him as saying.

Tehran has been disappointed by what it perceives as Moscow stalling under Western pressure.

Senior Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, recently warned that the delays in the S-300 could harm Russia-Iranian ties.

Russia and the U.S. are among six nations leading an effort to ensure Iran does not use what it maintains is a civilian nuclear program to develop an atomic bomb. But Moscow also has close ties with Iran and is helping build its first nuclear power plant, forcing Russia into a delicate balancing act.

Moscow has delivered other anti-aircraft systems to Tehran, such as the Tor-M1, which can hit aerial targets at up to 20,000 feet.