Newspaper article International New York Times

Putin Lifts Ban on Arms to Iran ; Russia Moves to Take Advantage of Nuclear Deal and Thawing Relations

Newspaper article International New York Times

Putin Lifts Ban on Arms to Iran ; Russia Moves to Take Advantage of Nuclear Deal and Thawing Relations

Article excerpt

President Vladimir V. Putin moved swiftly to take advantage of a possible thaw in relations and a potential deal curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has approved the delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran, potentially complicating negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program and further straining ties with Washington.

The sale could also undermine the Obama administration's efforts to sell Congress and foreign allies on the nuclear deal, which Iran and the United States are still struggling to complete. It might also reduce the United States' leverage in the talks by making it much harder for the United States or Israel to mount airstrikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure if the country ignored such an agreement.

"It is significant as it complicates the calculus for planning any military option involving airstrikes," said David A. Deptula, a retired three-star general who served as the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The deal approved on Monday, worth an estimated $800 million to Russia, also reinforced Israeli and Arab fears that a nuclear pact and the subsequent lifting of sanctions would ignite the Iranian economy, making it a more formidable regional power.

No timetable was announced for delivering the weapons, S-300 surface-to-air missiles. The sale was suspended five years ago amid a flurry of United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that far from complicating the continuing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the missile sales would help them along.

"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."

The missile deal does not pose a threat to Israel, Mr. Lavrov said, emphasizing that the S-300 is a defensive weapon.

The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany have been negotiating with Iran for years to try to make sure that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

The broad framework of a deal reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, on April 2 was preliminary, with several difficult issues still to be resolved by a June 30 deadline, including the pace at which sanctions should be lifted. The last thing proponents of the deal want to see is a rush to shower benefits on Iran before the final agreement is reached.

Along with congressional Republicans, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been sharply critical of the nuclear deal, saying that although it would free Iran from debilitating economic sanctions, it would do nothing to stop the country from getting a nuclear weapon.

On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu's intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, issued a statement saying the deal showed 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. …

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