- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2010

MOSCOW | Russia’s state arms trader declined to say Thursday whether it would go ahead with the sale of S-300 anti-aircraft hardware to Iran, but made clear it did not view the systems posing a threat if Iran obtained them.

The possible sale of the S-300s, which could protect Iran’s nuclear facilities against air strikes, is a sensitive issue in Russia’s relations with the United States and Israel, which have pressed Moscow not to proceed with the deal.

“I just don’t quite understand why supplies of the S-300 system to Iran trouble you so much,” Anatoly Isaikin, the head of Rosoboronexport, replied after being repeatedly asked about the deal at a news briefing.

“This is purely a weapon of defense, not attack,” he added. “This weapon cannot pose any threat to any neighbors, close or distant.”

Russia is under intense Western pressure to distance itself from Iran in the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, but has refused to rule out the delivery of the S-300 system.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official said Russia had yet to ship the S-300’s “main systems” - such as radars and interceptor missiles - to Iran.

Analysts say the S-300 could help Iran thwart any attempt by Israel or the United States to bomb its nuclear facilities from the air.

Mr. Isaikin said journalists must be guided by statements made by other Russian officials last year. “From my part, I just want to say I have nothing to add to these statements.”

Last year, Russian officials said Iran was not under international sanctions that would restrict its purchases of defense systems, but left it unclear whether any parts of the S-300 had actually been delivered.

Mr. Isaikin said there was no formal obstacle to weapons sales to Iran, which he described as Moscow’s “long-term partner.”

“For all these years, there has been not a single case when it breached its contractual obligations, including by handing over Russian weapons to a third country,” he said.

The truck-mounted S-300PMU1, known in the West as the SA-20, can shoot down cruise missiles and aircraft. It has a range of 90 miles and travels at more than 1.24 miles per second.

Washington has sought pledges from Russia for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear energy program, which the West suspects is intended to produce nuclear weapons. Tehran denies any such intention.

Israel, which is thought to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has hinted it could attack Iran in an effort to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran has threatened to retaliate for any attack by firing medium-range missiles at Israel.

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