Russia to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran in billion-dollar deal

ImageNew York Times


MOSCOW, Dec. 2 – Russia has agreed to sell antiaircraft missiles to Iran as part of a $1 billion arms deal that would significantly increase Moscow’s military cooperation with Tehran, Russian news media reported Friday.

The announcement of the sale coincided with a visit to Moscow by R. Nicholas Burns, the American under secretary of state for political affairs, who said in a radio interview that the United States had asked the Russian Foreign Ministry to explain the deal, reported by the newspaper Vedomosti and the Interfax news agency.

"For 25 years, Iran has supported terrorists in the Middle East, and that is why we have very bad relations with them," Mr. Burns said in remarks translated into Russian on the Echo of Moscow radio station. "You can understand why we do not support the sales of weapons."

The sale could complicate Russia’s mediating role in Iran’s nuclear standoff with the United States and Europe, a role that recently received the backing of the United States. Mr. Burns, in Moscow for talks on cooperation with Russia in antiterrorism matters, said Washington otherwise supported Russian efforts to reopen nuclear talks with Iran.

"We believe Russia is a country that has influence over Iran, and we want Iran to return to negotiations," Mr. Burns said.

The missiles, known by the NATO designation SA-15 Gauntlet, are deployed on tracked vehicles and designed to strike aircraft or cruise missiles flying at altitudes of an estimated 30 to 20,000 feet at a range of 7 miles, according to the Federation of American Scientists Web site.

Vedomosti, citing an unidentified weapons factory manager and a source said to be close to the deal, said that Russia would sell 29 missile systems to Iran, and that the weapons would complicate a potential airstrike by the United States or Israel on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia is helping to build.

Based on a 1990’s sale of 21 such systems to Greece for $526 million, the newspaper estimated the value of the missiles at more than $700 million. Interfax, citing a source in the Russian military industry, said Russia would sell 30 air defense systems to Iran as part of a $1 billion package that includes upgrades to the Iranian Air Force’s 59 Russian-made Sukhoi and MIG fighter jets and the sale of patrol boats.

Under President Vladimir V. Putin, Russia has increased arms sales to developing nations. Last year, with $6.1 billion in agreements, it was second in global arms sales after the United States, according to a study by the United States Congress released in August.