Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is in Iran for high-level talks with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about boosting Tehran’s supply of submarines, torpedoes, and sea-based cruise missiles, according to Russian media reports and sources familiar with details of the talks.
Shoigu, whose trip is being kept quiet with few details being released publicly, landed in Tehran on Monday to talk with Iranian leaders about "increasing defense cooperation and arms trade with the Islamic republic," the Moscow Times reported.
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The talks will focus on Iran’s desire to purchase from Russia a slew of advanced military hardware that would significantly boost Tehran’s sea power, particularly in the Gulf of Oman, according to one source familiar with the substance of the talks.
The arms deal talks also come a day after Iranian military leaders claimed that they have the ability to sink U.S. aircraft carriers.
Iran and Russia have been strengthening their military ties for quite some time. Moscow is largely responsible for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and has provided the Islamic Republic with much of its missile arsenal.
The latest talks are a sign that both countries aim to maintain the relationship, particularly as Russia helps Iran build several new nuclear reactors in the southern portion of the country.
"Iran gets a lot of military advice and missile equipment from the Russians," said Michael Ledeen, an Iran expert and former consultant to the National Security Council (NSC), State Department, and Defense Department.
However, "the bulk of that stuff nowadays seems to have to do with sea power, and it’s delivered across the Caspian Sea," said Ledeen, who has been in contact with Iranian sources familiar with the latest negotiations with Russia.
Iran is seeking to fortify its military edge in the Gulf of Oman and could employ Russian-made missiles as a deterrent to the United States and other nations present there.
In meetings with Khamenei and other Iranian leaders, Russia’s Shoigu is likely to discuss arming Tehran with new submarines, torpedoes, cruise missiles, and sea-to-sea arms, according to Ledeen, a freedom scholar for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"Those are the things the Russians and Iranians will be talking about, and it’s obviously a very important meeting because [Shoigu] is scheduled to see Khamenei himself," Ledeen said.
These talks are "very important" to both Moscow and Tehran as they seek to bolster their alliance.
"After all," said Ledeen, "the Iranian nuclear program is basically a Russian program: Russian reactors, Russian equipment. They’re the ones who make it all possible. So Iranian military power is heavily dependent on Russia technology, Russian advisers, and Russian counsel."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced last week that Iran has begun construction on two new nuclear reactors with Russia’s assistance.
Following the announcement, the U.S. State Department told the Washington Free Beacon that Iran is permitted to pursue these nuclear reactors under the terms of an interim nuclear deal meant to curb Iran’s contested program.
The State Department’s revelation elicited harsh criticism on Capitol Hill and from other proponents of a tougher U.S. stance against Iran’s nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Iranian naval commander Ali Fadavi, a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), bragged that Tehran has the ability to sink U.S. aircraft carriers.
"The U.S. military officials have admitted in their remarks that they have spent $13 [billion] for building aircraft carriers, but the IRCG can sink it with its speed boats," Fadavi claimed.
Ledeen said these comments speak directly to Iran’s desire to boost their power in the sea.
"Their long term objective is to destroy us, and they say that all the time," he said. "So long as we have an administration that’s not inclined to do anything in response, they’re going to keep it up. They’re going to speed ahead."