May 12, 2010 / 1:37 PM / 10 years ago

Russian rebuffs U.S. warning on Iran missile sale

ANKARA (Reuters) - Russia Wednesday rebuffed a warning from the United States over a plan to sell surface-to-air missiles to Iran, saying Moscow needed no advice from Washington on its weapons sales.

The United States said Tuesday it had warned Russia that delivering the S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran would have serious consequences for relations with Washington.

The S-300, which can shoot down several aircraft or missiles simultaneously, could allow Tehran to fend off a possible air strike by Israel or the United States on its nuclear program, changing the balance of power in the region.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow needed “no advice from across the ocean” about the sale of the S-300.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara during a visit by President Dmitry Medvedev, Lavrov added that Russia would not allow the destabilisation of those regions where it delivered arms.

Israel and the United States have asked Russia not to fulfil its contract to deliver the S-300 missile systems to Iran, though diplomats say Moscow is keen to keep the order as a bargaining chip with Tehran.

Western envoys in Moscow believe Russia is unlikely to go as far as to deliver the S-300 to Iran, but the Kremlin likes to give the impression that it might, in order to maximise its leverage in international talks.

Iranian officials have expressed growing irritation at Russia’s failure so far to supply the S-300.

Russian officials say Western powers, who suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, are making a grave mistake by pushing Tehran into a corner.

The Kremlin has urged talks to resolve the problem while keeping open the possibility of more sanctions, though it has emphasised that these must be limited to measures targeted at possible nuclear proliferation.

The truck-mounted S-300, known in the West as the SA-20, fires missiles with a range of 150 km (90 miles) which travel at more than two km per second.

Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control, said Tuesday he thought Russia understood Washington’s position and would be surprised if Moscow shipped the S-300 anti-aircraft system that Iran has ordered.

“We’ve made it very clear to the Russians that that would have a very significant impact on our bilateral relations,” said Samore. “I think the Russians understand that the consequences would be very severe.”

Reporting by Denis Dyomkin, writing by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Michael Stott

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