Iran takes possession of Russian air defense missiles

Iranian officials said Wednesday that they had received a delivery of advanced Russian air defense systems that are designed to protect its nuclear facilities at Isfahan, Bushehr, Tehran, and eastern Iran from attack, primarily from Israeli or American aircraft. The Associated Press reports that the arrival of the sophisticated systems came just before Iran began three days of military war gaming.

"We have had constructive defense transactions with Russia and we purchased Tor-M1 missiles that were recently delivered to us," the official Web site of Iranian state television quoted Minister of Defense Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as saying.

Najjar did not say how many missiles were delivered or when they arrived. Previously Moscow said it would supply 29 of the mobile surface-to-air missile systems to Iran under a $700 million contract signed in December 2005, Russian media has reported.

The BBC reports that the US "wants all countries to stop exporting weapons to Iran, but that Russia and China strongly oppose the move."

The response from the United States was almost immediate in the wake of the transaction. MosNews reports that Wednesday afternoon US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the delivery of the Tor-M1 missile system may cause the US to impose new sanctions against Russia, especially since the US had already harshly criticized the contract and "had urged the Kremlin to terminate it."

Washington believes that Russia should not have sold up-to-date arms to the country which refuses to meet the UN Security Council's requirements for development of nuclear industry. The international community should review the selling of Russian systems for anti missile defense of Teheran, McCormack said.

Another diplomat from the US State Department, who wished to remain anonymous, was quoted by Pravda.ru website as saying that punitive measures could be applied against the direct seller of the above-mentioned missile complexes and probably the buyer, but not the Russian government. The official did not specify whether the US administration has already initiated the process connected with the Russian-Iranian arms deal.

MosNews also reports that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has repeatedly said the arms deal did not violate any international treaties or UN resolutions because the Tor-M1 system is defensive only and cannot be used to attack. In December of 2005, when Russia signed to deal, and the US responded by saying it was not good for the US or the region, Mr. Ivanov replied that it was "a legitimate deal between the two countries, no matter if someone liked it or not."

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, current president of the UN Security Council, while not explicitly confirming the deal, said they had "nothing to do" with UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. Kommersant reports that Russia does not believe that the Tor-M1 missiles will change the balance of power in the region because the missles are "of medium range not designed for hitting ground targets."

Al Jazeera reports that Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, has told the World Economic Forum in Davos that attacking Iran would spread sectarian violence throughout the region.

Mr. Moussa said the United States needed to move from use of military force towards dialogue, to resolve the violence in Iraq and to reduce US-Iranian tensions. He said that he supported proposals for talks with Iran and Syria.

"If there were to be a war, other genies will get out of the bottle," he said. "You cannot imagine the impact on the Gulf countries, on the Mediterranean."

In an important policy speech Wednesday, the The Associated Press reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel will respond to an Iranian nuclear threat with "with all the means at our disposal." Mr. Olmert also said that he does not believe that the threat of a nuclear attack on Israel is imminent, and that there is still time for a diplomatic solution to the problem. But he added that the international community has no choice but to act against Iran, particularly after bellicose statements from Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, the Chicago Tribune reports that Russia is denouncing the US plan to build a system of missile sites in Eastern Europe. The US has said the system is designed to protect Europe against Iranian missiles, but Russia says that is nonsense since Iran "doesn't want or have" intercontinental ballistic missiles" capable of reaching Europe, and that the real target of the plan is Russia.

The Bush administration has argued that the shield is needed to defend Europe and the US against a potential attack from Iran or North Korea. While neither country has intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching Europe, the shield is warranted because both could one day develop that capability, US officials say.

Russian leaders derided that logic, instead insisting the defense shield was meant to target Russia and its vast nuclear arsenal. Russian Gen. Vladimir Popovkin, who commands a division of the Russian army in charge of space technology, said the system could "monitor rocket installations in central Russia and the Northern Fleet. Our analysis shows that the location of the US base would be a clear threat to Russia."

The Tribune also reports that many Russian analysts and diplomats believe that Russian gave the US "too much leeway" after the 9/11 attacks and that the US has encroached on Russia's sphere of influence to an unacceptable degree.

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