US presses Russia on Iran missile deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States on Monday said Russia’s plans to sell $1 billion in tactical missiles and other arms to Iran would not serve US or regional interests.
Moscow announced the sale of tactical surface-to-air missiles and other hardware on Friday, after Washington urged the world to use its economic and diplomatic leverage to persuade Iran to abandon sensitive nuclear activities.

“I think it’s important to remember and underscore that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, they have engaged in actions that we think are hostile and unhelpful, and that we view this proposed sale in that context,” State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said at a news briefing.

“We certainly don’t feel that this is a sale that would serve the interests of us or the region” and the United States will discuss it further with the Russians, Ereli said.

Privately, another senior US official voiced a more understanding view of the deal, which involves TOR-M1 systems designed to bring down aircraft and guided missiles at low altitudes. He said that while the administration wishes Moscow regarded the sale as imprudent, it cannot make too much of an issue because it has not proposed a multilateral arms embargo against Iran and the sale does not violate any agreement.

Despite differences over the missile sale, Russia works well with Washington on some issues but its arms client list is shrinking and it needs the cash from the Iranian deal, the official said.

A senior congressional aide said the sale was likely to cause a “minor revolt” in the US Congress.

Congress this year had to pass legislation to ensure that Americans will continue to have a ride aboard the Russian Soyuz space taxi until 2011, because of the Iran Non-Proliferation Act, which bars the US use of most Russian space technology as long as Russia exports nuclear and missile technology to Iran.

The aide, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the missile sale was at cross purposes with Russia’s role in helping Britain, France, Germany and the United States convince Iran to end its nuclear programmes.

The missiles could help Iran defend its nuclear sites against Israeli strikes, the aide said.

Congress probably would not have authorised the Soyuz-related payments to Russia if it knew about the Iran missile sale and is certain to demand an explanation from the administration, the aide told Reuters.

Russian officials said the missiles were for defensive purposes.

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