A draft U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, including limits on global arms transfers, will not block the controversial transfer of Russian S-300 missiles to the Iranian military, according to U.S. and Russian officials.
The Obama administration had opposed the S-300 sale because the system is highly effective against aircraft and some missiles. The CIA has said the S-300 missiles, which have been contracted by Tehran but not delivered, will be used to defend Iranian nuclear facilities.
A key provision in the resolution made public this week states that all U.N. member states will agree to block sales or transfers of weapons. It lists tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, warships and “missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.”
A close reading of the missile section of the register defines those included in the ban as missiles and launchers for guided rockets, and ballistic and cruise missiles, and missile-equipped remotely piloted vehicles. However, the register states that the missile system category “does not include ground-to-air missiles,” such as anti-aircraft missiles and anti-missile interceptors like the S-300.
According to a CIA report to Congress on arms proliferation made public in April, Iran “continues to seek the advanced long-range S-300 air defense system from Russia.”
“We judge likely deployment locations for this system include Iran’s nuclear facilities,” the report said.
Asked about S-300s, a senior State Department official said the draft “would not impose a legally binding obligation not to transfer S-300 to Iran” since the register does not cover defensive missiles.
However, the official said the draft resolution calls for U.N. members to show “vigilance and restraint” on arms sales, something “Russia has already demonstrated in its failure to deliver the system thus far despite its contractual obligation to do so.”
The official noted that the arms embargo Moscow has accepted in the draft would block many other weapons systems that Russia has supplied to Iran and thus curb future transfers.
Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, had no comment.
Yevgeni Khorishko, a Russian Embassy spokesman, said his government is aware that the draft resolution does not ban sales of air-defense systems. “The S-300s is not prohibited,” he said. “It is not on the list of prohibited items.”
Mr. Khorishko said that for unspecific “technical reasons” the S-300 contract will not be implemented at this time.
It could not be learned why the administration did not ban air-defense missiles. The New York Times, quoting a U.N. diplomat, reported Wednesday that Russia opposed a total arms ban on Iran and that a final compromise on the sanctions resolution included a telephone call from President Obama to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the Obama administration for not closing the sanctions resolution loophole on the S-300, calling it “diplomatic malpractice.”
“It is further evidence that the Obama administration is preparing to accept a nuclear Iran,” Mr. Bolton said in an e-mail.