London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iran says it is still negotiating with Russia for the delivery of S-300 air defense missiles, a contract suspended thanks to Western and Israeli pressure since 2007, despite reports it has been offered a substitute.
“In line with the friendly ties between Iran and Russia, negotiations between officials and experts in charge are continuing, so that the international obligations of the Russian side will be fulfilled and a result will be reached on the S-300 system,” the website of Iran’s English language satellite channel, Press TV, quoted the country’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in an interview published on Sunday, Iran’s ambassador to Russia, Seyyed Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi, said that his country has not yet entered serious negotiations with Russia over a replacement for the S-300 system.
The transfer of the S-300 system—a combination of advanced surface to air missiles and radars optimized to detect and shoot down aircraft and cruise missiles at long-range—has proven to be a controversial issue internationally, with both Western and Israeli governments lobbying Russia against completing the sale, which would represent a major upgrade of Iran’s air defense network.
The US and Israel have repeatedly warned that they will launch air attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities if Iran diverts any nuclear material to a military bomb program. Iran insists that as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is entitled to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
More recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin hinted that Russia would reconsider its decision to halt the transfer of the system to Iran if the US and its allies intervened in the Syrian civil war.
The latest reports in the Iranian media follows reports in recent months on the possibility of the delivery of an alternative system to the S-300 to Iran, in order to settle the dispute between the two countries over the delivery of the system.
According to a report published in June, Moscow has offered Iran the Tor anti-aircraft system as a replacement for the S-300.
However, Iran’s ambassador to Russia said that month that the Tor—which has a shorter effective range—cannot be integrated into Iran’s air defenses.
Ambassador Sajjadi said Iran had developed a national defense system “and within that system the proposed Tor system would be unable to fulfill the S-300’s functions.”
In 2007, Russia signed a contract worth USD 800 million to deliver five batteries of S-300 air defense systems to Iran, but then halted the deal in September 2010, claiming the delivering the system would breach the fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.
Russia’s refusal to deliver the systems prompted Iran to file a USD 4 billion lawsuit with the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva against the Russian arms firm Rosoboronexport. The complaint is currently pending.
On July 18, Iran’s then-minister of defense Brigadier-General Ahmad Vahidi said the country was pursuing delivery of Russian missiles through legal channels.
Earlier, Vahidi had denied rumors that Iran plans to purchase S-300 air defense missile systems from China or Venezuela.
Meanwhile, some reports suggest that Iran might be willing to receive another state of the art air-defense system as a replacement to S-300.
According to Iranian semi-official FRAS news agency, believed to be linked to the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a derivative of the S-300, the Antey-2500, may be a solution for the row as the system does not formally fall under the existing sanctions against Iran while still being useful for the Middle-Eastern country.
“While the S-300 was developed for the use by missile defense forces, the Antey-2500 was specifically tailored for the needs of ground forces, which could also be an advantage for Iran, known for its large land force,” Fars news agency said.
Despite recent contacts between senior Iranian and American officials during the recent UN General Assembly meeting in New York, including a telephone conversation between the presidents Obama and Rouhani, Iran remains the target of many UN and American sanctions over its nuclear program.
Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyeb-Nia dismissed on Saturday the likelihood of a quick removal of the sanctions against his country.
“If we hope that the sanctions would be lifted in the near future and a breakthrough would occur, it would be wishful thinking, because the removal of the sanctions is a long-term process,” Press TV quoted Tayyeb-Nia as saying.
Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said the country has arrested four people suspected of trying to sabotage one of its nuclear sites.
“Some time ago, we uncovered sabotage activities by several people at a nuclear plant,” he said in comments carried by the Mehr news agency on Sunday.
“We arrested them at the appropriate moment and their interrogation is ongoing,” he added.
Salehi did not identify which nuclear site they were alleged to have targeted.