Friday, 11 June 2010

Russia to freeze missile sale to Iran, Putin tells Sarkozy

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has told France that Moscow will freeze a delivery of surface-to-air missiles to Iran, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said on Friday following talks between the two men

Russia has a contract to sell S-300 missiles to Tehran and there was confusion whether the deal could go ahead under the terms of a fourth round of United Nations sanctions introduced earlier this week to penalize Iran over its nuclear program.

However a spokesman for Sarkozy told reporters that Putin had confirmed the delivery would be frozen. The official quoted the Russian leader as saying Iran was "very unhappy" and wanted to impose penalties on Moscow for breaking the contract.

The French spokesman also said that France and Russia wanted to speed up talks on the possible sale of French-made helicopter carriers to Moscow.

Russia wants to buy the Mistral class warship to modernise hardware that was exposed as outdated during its war against Georgia in 2008. France has said it is willing to sell the ship, but talks have got bogged down over technology sharing.

"Negotiations are going on at a technical level and there is a desire on both sides to speed things up," the French official told reporters.

Since the UN sanctions resolution against Iran was approved on Wednesday, Russia has released several contradicting reports regarding it missle deal with Iran. Russia said on Thursday it was in discussions with Iran on possible new nuclear power plants in the Islamic state, the country's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
"We are discussing these [new plants] with our Iranian partners, we are practically discussing this now," Lavrov said.

Earlier Thursday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that new United Nations sanctions against Tehran over its contentious nuclear program do not oblige Moscow to scrap a controversial deal to deliver surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

The clarification came after the Russian Interfax news agency cited an arms industry source as saying Russia would freeze its unfulfilled contract to sell S-300 missiles to Iran after the UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told journalists, however, that the UN resolution does not apply to air-defense systems, with the exception of mobile missiles.

The report citing an unidentified source in Russia's arms industry contradicted Russian officials and others who have said the sanctions approved on Wednesday with Moscow's support would not affect the air-defense missile deal.

"The UN Security Council decision is binding for all countries and Russia is no exception," Interfax cited the source as saying. "Naturally, the contract to deliver S-300 missile systems will be frozen."

Russia has used its unfulfilled deal to provide Iran with S-300 missiles as a lever in its delicate diplomacy with Tehran and Western powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear activity, which they say is aimed at acquiring atomic weapons.

Israel and the United States have asked Russia not to deliver the missile systems, which can shoot down several aircraft or missiles simultaneously and could potentially be used to protect nuclear facilities.

Western diplomats in Moscow believe Russia is eager to keep the deal in reserve as a bargaining chip. Iran has expressed increasing frustration over the unfulfilled contract.
Russia's move toward support for the new sanctions against Iran has been accompanied by repeated assurances that the measures would not affect the S-300 deal.

The latest came on Thursday from the Kremlin-allied chairman of the International Affairs committee in Russia's lower parliament house. Konstantin Kosachyov said the S-300 is a defensive weapon and would not be affected, Itar-Tass reported.

In Washington, Republican U.S. Senator Jon Kyl criticized the UN sanctions resolution on Wednesday for excluding the S-300 deal and Russia's construction of Iran's first nuclear power plant near Bushehr.

Russia has close ties with Iran and has worked with China, also a veto-wielding UN Security Council member, to water down Western-backed sanctions resolutions against Tehran, including the latest one.

But Moscow has been increasingly critical of Tehran's rejection of a proposal to ease concerns about the purpose of its nuclear program by having uranium shipped to Russia for enrichment.

U.S. President Barack Obama has courted Russian support for the new sanctions, and administration officials have pointed to Moscow's backing as a positive result of a "reset" aimed to improve long-strained ties.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday warned Russia not to side with "Iran's enemies" by supporting the sanctions.

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