Putin Reaffirms Arms Sales, Nuclear Assistance to Iran

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Putin Reaffirms Arms Sales, Nuclear Assistance to Iran


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


HOSTING A VISIT by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on March 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed that Russia would pursue new arms sales to Iran and complete construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Long critical of Moscow's relations with Tehran, Washington immediately expressed concern and warned Russia that selling advanced weapons and technologies to Iran could jeopardize better relations with the United States.

Early last November, the Kremlin notified the United States that on December 1 Russia would withdraw from a June 1995 agreement to end arms sales to Iran. Russia had not strictly adhered to the agreement, selling an estimated $200 million in weapons to Iran between 1996 and 1999, according to the Congressional Research Service. Nevertheless, the State Department believes the agreement succeeded in limiting Russian arms deals during the period, and it opposes Russia's abrogation of its commitment.

Russia and Iran did not finalize any specific weapons contracts during Khatami's four-day visit to Russia, but deals may be signed later this spring or early summer. The two sides did sign a number of agreements, including a Treaty on the Foundations of Mutual Relations and the Principles of Cooperation, aimed at expanding bilateral relations and trade.

Putin and other senior Russian officials have said only defensive weapons will be sold to Iran, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted on March 12 that Moscow has not been "quite clear" on what qualifies as defensive weaponry. Russian and Iranian press reports suggest that tanks, armored combat vehicles, fighter aircraft, helicopters, shoulder-fired surface-toair missiles, and advanced S-300 air defense systems may all be on Iran's shopping list, though it remains unclear whether Iran could afford to purchase that amount of weaponry.

Putin justified the potential deals on March 12, stating that "Iran has the right to ensure its security and defense capability" and explaining that Russia has "economic reasons" for making such sales. Since assuming the Russian presidency, Putin has pushed to increase Russian revenue from weapons sales by trying to revive sales to old Soviet clients and seeking new arms markets and by reducing competition between Russian arms companies, which had been driving Russian weapons prices down.

Testifying before the Senate Budget Committee on March 14, Secretary of State Colin Powell implied that, if it wants improved relations with the United States, Russia should rethink to whom it sells arms. "It would not be wise to invest in regimes that are not following accepted standards of international behavior," Powell declared. The U.S. government classifies Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and believes Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons despite its legal obligation not to under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. …

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