Russia freezes Iran missile contract: report

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Russia is freezing a contract to deliver S-300 air defence missiles to Iran after the adoption of the new UN sanctions against Tehran, a source told the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

"It is compulsory to fulfill a decision by the UN Security Council and Russia is not an exception here," said the source in the Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation, which supervises Russian arms sales.

"Naturally, the contract for the delivery to Tehran of the S-300 air defence missile systems will be frozen," added the source, who was not named. There was no official confirmation of the comments.

The resolution, agreed Wednesday by UN Security Council members including Russia, bars countries from selling Iran heavy weaponry including missiles and missile systems.

Russia several years ago agreed the deal on the S-300 missile systems but has never delivered the weapons amid pressure from the United States and Israel which fear they would dramatically improve Iran's defensive capabilities.

Its failure to deliver the missiles has disappointed Iran's Islamic leadership and become a major sticking point in once strong bilateral ties.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee on Russia's lower house of parliament, meanwhile said that while weapons sales restrictions had been expanded under the sanctions they did not include the S-300s.

"Systems of a defensive nature like the S-300 are not on this list," he told Interfax.

However it does not appear that the UN Security Council resolution makes a distinction between offensive and defensive heavy weaponry.

Moreover comments by the Russia's military-technical cooperation agency are closely watched as it is directly responsible for ensuring that Russia's arms sales fall in line with international law.

The S-300 sale is particularly controversial as Western powers fear Iran would use the sophisticated systems to protect its most sensitive nuclear sites against an aerial attack and inflict heavy casualties on the enemy.

Analysts and diplomats have suggested that the delivery of the weapons so worries Israel that the Jewish state could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran if it has intelligence that Russia was to deliver them.

There was intense speculation that the Arctic Sea cargo ship which disappeared for several days last year and Russia said was hijacked could have been carrying an illicit cargo of S-300s to Iran.

However these reports were vehemently denied by Russian officials.

© 2010 AFP

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