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Thu, Jan 18, 2007

Russia Sells SAMs To Iran

Moscow Pushes Ahead With Deal Against US Protests

Russia's defense minister Sergei Ivanov confirmed Tuesday his country has sold an unspecified number of short-range Tor-M1 missiles to Iran.

"We have delivered short-range Tor-M1 missiles to Iran in accordance with the contract," Ivanov told reporters.

Although there have been several recent media reports about the sale citing unidentified officials, Tuesday's announcement by Ivanov was the first government confirmation from Russia.

According to Russian media reports, the former Soviet country entered a $700 million contract with Iran to supply 29 of the sophisticated missile systems. And that may not be the end of it. Other reports in the country's media suggest the government has recently discussed selling Iran the more powerful, longer range S-300 air defense system. Although Russian officials have previously denied that, Ivanov vaguely hinted Tuesday those reports might be true.

"If the Iranian leadership has a desire to purchase more defensive weapons, we would do that," Ivanov said, without elaborating.

All of this goes directly against US requests for all countries to stop arms exports to Iran, and to halt any cooperation on the country's nuclear program -- this in an effort to pressure Iran into ceasing its uranium-enrichment activities.

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey told the Associated Press he was unaware of the sale Ivanov confirmed Tuesday, but added, "I don't think you've ever heard us say that it's a good idea for anyone to be selling weapons to either Iran or to other state sponsors of terror."

Absent a UN mandate, any country may trade with Iran as it pleases. To date, the UN security council remains at loggerheads over the severity of sanctions it should impose on Iran for defying the multi-national organization's demand for the middle-eastern country to halt uranium enrichment.

Russia says the Tor-M1 is a limited-range weapon possessing no nuclear capabilities, and therefore doesn't violate current international agreements. According to an Associated Press report, the system is capable of tracking 48 targets and firing at two simultaneously up to 20,000 feet.

Although Russia continues to support Iran's right to nuclear energy -- it has a $1 billion contract to build a nearly-complete nuclear reactor in the country -- it has joined the US and the rest of the world in demanding Iran discontinue enrichment activities.

Officials in Tehran insist the country's nuclear enrichment program is for peaceful purposes, but the US and its allies argue Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

FMI: www.un.org, www.state.gov

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