US not Expecting S-300 Sales to Iran in 2008

A03183823.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- The United States does not expect Iran to receive a Russian air defense system this year, a Pentagon official said on Tuesday of the shield that would make any strike on Tehran’s nuclear sites more difficult

Eric Edelman, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, was responding to questions at a Senate hearing about reports that Iran would soon acquire an advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile system.

“To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe we think the missiles referred to … are in fact slated for delivery by the end of this year,” Edelman told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“But it is something that we are watching very closely,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “It is a very serious capability that would be a concern to us as well as others in the region.”

Western and Israeli experts have claimed that if Tehran acquired the S-300 missile batteries, it would make any strike by Israel or the United States on Iran’s nuclear sites tougher. The system is also known in the West as the SA-20.

Last month, an Israeli think tank claimed that next year Iran will install an advanced air defense system that it bought from Russia.

The report by the Institute for Contemporary Affairs said the S-300PMU-2 air defense system will be deployed in 2009 and it will be operational by the middle of the next year.

Earlier this month, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi denied the Western and Israeli reports that Iran has purchased the S-300 missile batteries from Russia.

Israel and its close ally the United States accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear weapon, while they have never presented any corroborative document to substantiate their allegations. Both Washington and Tel Aviv possess advanced weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear warheads.

Iran vehemently denies the charges, insisting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

But Israel, which is the sole owner of atomic weapons in the Middle-East, has vowed to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power in the region.

Speculation that Israel would bomb Iran rose after an Israeli war rehearsal earlier this year. In early June, Israel conducted a military maneuver over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece in preparation, according to Pentagon officials, for an aerial bombardment of Iranian nuclear facilities.

Over 100 Israeli F-16s and F-15s partook in the exercise, which spanned some 900 miles, roughly the distance between their airfields and a nuclear enrichment facility in the central Iranian city of Natanz.

The United States has also always stressed that military action is among its main options on the table.

In response, Iran has warned it could close the strategic Strait of Hormoz if it became the target of a military attack over its nuclear program.

Strait of Hormoz, the entrance to the strategic Persian Gulf waterway, is a major oil shipping route.

Intensified threats by Tel Aviv and Washington of military action against Iran are in direct opposition to a recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies which endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear plans and activities.

Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions or launch military attack on Iran seems to be completely irrational.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

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