Russia offers to sell anti-aircraft missile program to Iran

Russia is offering to sell Iran a missile defense system, five years after the Kremlin canceled the sale of an earlier version under pressure from the U.S. and Israel.

Sergei Chemezov, chief executive of the Russian defense corporation Rostec, said Tehran is considering its offer to sell an Antey-2500 anti-ballistic air defense system, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The Antey-2500 is a mobile surface-to-air missile system that offers enhanced combat capabilities, including the destruction of aircraft and ballistic missiles at a range of about 1,500 miles, according to its manufacturer, Almaz-Antey.

The system was developed from a less advanced version — the 1980s-generation S-300V system — which has a 125-mile range.  A 2007 contract to supply the S-300 system to Iran was canceled in 2010, after the U.S. and Israel lobbied against it, saying it could be used to shield Iran’s nuclear facilities from possible future airstrikes. But Russia also has tried to sell them to war-torn Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

“They are thinking [about it]. The decision hasn’t been taken yet,” Chemezov told reporters in Abu Dhabi Monday, Russia’s state-controlled news agency TASS reported.

The possible deal could exacerbate tensions between Russia and the West, which are already high over the fate of Ukraine. The U.S., the European Union and others have slapped sanctions on Moscow for supporting anti-government rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Chemezov is among those on the U.S. sanctions list. Rostec is a “state corporation” responsible for dozens of defense and technology companies, including the state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, which has the sole right to export and import arms in Russia, Reuters reported.

Chemezov said that conflicts in the Middle East have given Russian arms sales a boost — with foreign sales totaling $13 billion in 2014.

“I don’t hide it, and everyone understands that the more conflicts there are, the more weapons are bought from us. Our volumes continue to grow, despite sanctions. In particular it’s Latin America and the Middle East,” Chemezov said.

There was no immediate comment from Washington or Israel on the most recent possible deal.

Russia is a player in international talks with Iran aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, some movement was reported in Geneva Monday on the talks — which include Secretary of State John Kerry. Officials from some of the six powers say Iran and the U.S. are working on a deal that would be implemented in two phases.

The agreement on the table would mean a clampdown on Iran’s nuclear program for at least a decade — but Iran would then have some room to slowly increase activities, as the West gradually lifted constraints on its uranium enrichment program and eased economic sanctions.

Iran claims it doesn’t want nuclear arms and needs enrichment only for energy, medical and scientific purposes, but the U.S. fears Tehran could re-engineer the program to another potential use — producing the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Iran filed a $4-billion international arbitration suit against Russia in Geneva after Moscow bowed out of the missile deal in 2010, but the two countries remain allies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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