MOSCOW (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — President Vladimir Putin on Monday opened the way for Russia’s delivery of a sophisticated air defense missile system to Iran, a move that would significantly bolster the Islamic republic’s military capability.
Russia signed the $800 million contract to sell Iran the S-300 missile system in 2007, but suspended their delivery three years later because of strong objections from the United States and Israel. Putin on Monday lifted that ban.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone Monday to discuss Iran-related issues, the situation in Syria, Yemen and other issues, the Foreign Ministry said.
Speaking in a televised statement, Lavrov said that a preliminary agreement on settling the Iranian nuclear standoff reached earlier this month made the 2010 Russian ban unnecessary.
“The S-300 is exclusively a defensive weapon, which can’t serve offensive purposes and will not jeopardize the security of any country, including, of course, Israel,” he said.
Israel Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said the nuclear deal framework helped legitimize Iran and cleared the way for Monday’s announcement by Russia.
“This is a direct result of the legitimacy that Iran obtained from the emerging nuclear deal,” he said. Steinitz added that the arms deal shows that Iran plans to use the relief from economic sanctions to buy weapons, not improve the living conditions of its people.
The Pentagon on Monday reiterated its opposition to the missile contract.
“Our opposition to this sale has long been public. We believe it’s unhelpful,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said. “We are raising this through all appropriate diplomatic channels. Any sale of advance technologies is cause for concern to us.”
The deal reached by Iran and six world powers is intended to significantly restrict its ability to produce nuclear weapons while giving it relief from international sanctions. The agreement is supposed to be finalized by June 30, and there is no firm agreement yet on how or when to lift the international sanctions on Iran.
Back in 2010, Russia linked its decision to freeze the missiles’ delivery to the sanctions the United Nations Security Council imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, but Lavrov argued Monday that the Russian move was voluntary and not directly required by the U.N. resolutions.
“It was done in the spirit of good will in order to encourage progress in talks,” Lavrov said. “We are convinced that at this stage there is no longer need for such an embargo, specifically for a separate, voluntary Russian embargo.”
Iran responded to the Russian ban by filing a lawsuit with a court in Geneva seeking $4 billion in damages for breach of contract, but the court has not issued a ruling.
Lavrov said that Russia had to take into account “commercial and reputational” issues linked to freezing the contract.
“Because of the suspension of the contract, Russia has failed to receive significant funds,” he said. “We see no need to continue doing that.”
He added that Iran badly needs modern air defense systems because of a tense situation in the region, specifically in Yemen.
Lavrov didn’t say when Moscow could deliver the missiles. Russian officials previously said that the specific model of the S-300 that Russia was to deliver under the 2007 contract is no longer produced, and offered Iran a modified version of it called Antey-2500.
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