Newspaper article International New York Times

Putin Agrees to Deliver Air Defenses to Tehran ; Russia Seizes Opening to Gain Trade Benefits If Nuclear Deal Is Reached

Newspaper article International New York Times

Putin Agrees to Deliver Air Defenses to Tehran ; Russia Seizes Opening to Gain Trade Benefits If Nuclear Deal Is Reached

Article excerpt

President Vladimir V. Putin approved the delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran on Monday, a step that is likely to further strain ties with Washington..

President Vladimir V. Putin approved the delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran on Monday, a step designed to secure Russia's future trade relations with Tehran and one that is likely to further strain ties with Washington.

The supply of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system, a deal suspended five years ago in the midst of United Nations sanctions against Iran, could significantly bolster the Islamic republic's defenses against any future attack.

There was no timetable announced for delivering the weapons. The military deal, along with an oil-for-goods barter program that Moscow has been negotiating with Tehran for months, underscored that Russia was determined to claim a share of the economic spoils should a nuclear deal with Iran be signed and international trade ties resume.

Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that the pending deal with Iran on its nuclear program eliminated any need for banning the missile sales.

"It was done in the spirit of good will in order to encourage progress in the talks," Mr. Lavrov said in a televised statement, "We believe that the need for this kind of embargo, indeed a separate, voluntary Russian embargo, has completely disappeared."

Moscow suspended the deal on its own accord in September 2010, even though the missiles were not covered by the sanctions approved under a United Nations Security Council resolution at that time.

The five permanent members of the Security Council, including Russia, plus Germany, have been negotiating with Iran for years to try to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

The broad framework for a deal was agreed upon in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2. A formal accord that could be negotiated by the end of June would pave the way for the lifting of United Nations trade sanctions against Iran.

The surface-to-air missile deal did not pose a threat to Israel, Mr. Lavrov said, emphasizing that the S-300 was a defensive weapon.

Israel issued a sharp rebuke, saying that Iran was seeking to gain premature international approval for the nuclear deal before it was finalized. The deal shows that "the economic momentum in Iran that will come in the wake of lifting the sanctions will be exploited for armaments and not used for the welfare of the Iranian people," Yuval Steinitz, the intelligence minister, said in a statement.

Iran, Mr. Steinitz said, "is being allowed to arm itself with advanced weapons that will only increase its aggression."

Mr. Lavrov, alluding to recent airstrikes by Saudi Arabia and others against Iranian allies in Yemen, suggested that Iran needed a more robust air defense system. "For Iran, which is located in the volatile Middle East region, a modern air defense system is very important, especially now that tensions have run high in the surrounding environment," he said.

Mr. Lavrov also noted that Moscow could use the money: At the time the deal was negotiated in 2007, Russian media reported that it was worth $800 million. Iran had sought some $4 billion in damages after the delivery was suspended, although it was unlikely to receive it. …

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