Russia suspends Iran arms sale following Israeli PM's visit to Moscow

Russia decided to delay the delivery of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The delay is expected to further strain relations between Moscow and Tehran.

By , Correspondent

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    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Moscow Tuesday.
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Russia on Wednesday delayed the delivery of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran, citing unspecified technical problems. The announcement comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow to urge Russia to take tougher action against Iran’s nuclear program. The delay is expected to further strain relations between Moscow and Tehran.

According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the delivery of S-300 missiles has not been canceled.

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"The delay is due to technical problems. The delivery will be carried out when they are resolved," Alexander Fomin, deputy head of Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, told the Interfax news agency…. Neither the United States nor Israel have ruled out air strikes in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Analysts say that S-300s could greatly complicate such air strikes.

On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned the international community against imposing sanctions following an earlier announcement that Iran would enrich uranium to 20 percent purity. During their meeting the same day, Mr. Putin assured Mr. Netanyahu that Russia did not want to spark an arms race in the Middle East, reports Haaretz.

During his two-hour meeting with Netanyahu, Putin stressed that Russia would refrain from selling any arms to Syria and Iran that would tilt the strategic balance in the region.

Netanyahu and Putin devoted most of their discussions on Russian plans to sell S-300 surface-to-air missiles, as well as the sale of Russian arms to Syria. The prime minister said he told Putin of the need to apply strict economic sanctions against Iran, along with preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Just in September, Russia was angrily denying allegations that one of its freighters had been secretly carrying S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Iran. The ship's official cargo was timber bound for Algeria, the Monitor reported at the time. The following month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow to pressure the Russians to find a joint approach to deal with Iran's alleged drive to obtain nuclear weapons.

Now, Clinton is on a tour of Arab states in the Persian Gulf to lobby against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, sparking Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to say that "the Americans, once again, have dispatched their agent as a saleswoman to the Persian Gulf to spread lies," state TV quoted Khamenei as saying.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu believes Russia and Israel have reached an understanding regarding arms sales to Iran, reports the Jerusalem Post.

Netanyahu said it was clear to him after his meeting with Putin that the Russian prime minister was interested in quiet and stability in the region, and does not want that balance to be broken.

“Russia understands the Iranian problem, and that is obvious even more so today,” Netanyahu said.

AFP reports that “Russian media have speculated that Israel could agree to stop selling arms to Moscow's foe Georgia in return for a Russian agreement to block the S-300 sale to Iran, which the Jewish state sees as its main threat.”

Russia has joined the US and France in criticizing Iran’s nuclear program. The three countries on Tuesday issued a statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency stating, "Iran's enrichment of its LEU (low-enriched uranium) stockpile to higher levels is not only unnecessary, but would serve to further undermine the confidence of the international community in Iran's actions," according to the Telegraph. The three powers also urged China not to block tougher United Nations sanctions against Iran.

Meanwhile, China’s position on tougher nuclear sanctions against Tehran remains a “mystery,” reports AFP.

Calls have risen within the US to impose sanctions against Iran's Revolutionary Guard and on Iranian oil exports. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Russia has been supplying arms to Iran since the late 1990s, with transfer agreements ballooning from $300 million between 1998 and 2001 to $1.7 billion between 2002 and 2005.

Some analysts see a quid pro quo in place: Iran does not object to Russian interference in the predominantly Muslim Caucasus, while Russia refrains from agreeing to UN sanctions against Tehran. “However, for both parties, cooperation is driven as much by fear and mistrust as it is by opportunism and shared interests,” wrote [Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Military and Security Studies Program] in a March 2001 Arms Control Today article.

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