United States Concerned Over S-300 to Iran

The United States voices concern after Russian President lifts a ban on shipments of advanced missile systems to Iran.

Elad Benari ,

S-300 missile defense batteries
S-300 missile defense batteries

The United States voiced concern on Monday about the possible sale of sophisticated Russian air defense missiles to Iran, after Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted a ban on such shipments.

AFP reported that Secretary of State John Kerry raised Washington's concerns about the end of the sales ban on the S-300 missile system directly, with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in an early morning phone call.

The move comes just days after global powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- agreed an outline framework of a deal to sharply curtail Iran's suspect nuclear program.

But a full deal still has to be agreed by a June 30 deadline.

"We don't believe it's constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with it," said State Department acting spokeswoman Marie Harf, according to AFP.

The United States military also expressed concerns over the Russian move, with Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren telling reporters, "Our opposition to these sales is long and public. We believe it's unhelpful.”

Putin signed a decree lifting a self-imposed ban on supplying the missile system to the Islamic Republic.

In doing so, he pre-empted the possible future lifting of sanctions against Iran if it agrees to the deal limiting its nuclear program.

"We think given Iran's destabilizing actions in the region, in places like Yemen or Syria or Lebanon, that this isn't the time to be selling these kinds of system to them," Harf told reporters.

She conceded, however, that the U.S. administration did not believe that any such sales would be in violation of UN sanctions, slapped on Iran for its suspect nuclear program.

Asked whether sales would violate the UN Security Council sanctions, she replied, "It is my understanding, that it would not."

And she also stressed that the U.S. has been working closely with Russia on the Iran nuclear negotiations, adding, "We don't think this will have an impact on unity in terms of the inside of the negotiating rooms."

Russia signed a contract in 2007 to supply Iran with five S-300 advanced missile batteries, which can be used against aircraft or guided missiles, at a cost of $800 million.

In 2010, Russia's then-president Dmitry Medvedev cancelled the deal, after the United States and Israel applied strong pressure on him. Both countries worry that the S-300 would make Iran less vulnerable to attack by either one of them, and motivate Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

Earlier on Monday, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz denounced Russia's decision to lift the ban, saying it was proof of Tehran's newfound "legitimacy" following nuclear talks.

"At a time when Iran denies clause after clause of the agreement declared last week, the international community has already begun easing its sanctions," Steinitz said in a statement.

"This is a direct result of the legitimacy that Iran is receiving from the nuclear deal that is being prepared, and proof that the Iranian economic growth which follows the lifting of sanctions will be exploited for arming itself and not for the welfare of the Iranian people."

"Instead of demanding that Iran desist from the terrorist activity that it is carrying out in the Middle East and throughout the world, it is being allowed to arm itself with advanced weapons that will only increase its aggression," he added.

Iran, meanwhile, welcomed the Russian decision, with its defense minister claiming the move would help maintain stability in the region.