Moscow reconsiders sales of S-300 missiles to Iran

• July 19, 2012 5:00 am


Russia is reconsidering sales of advanced S-300 air defense missiles to Iran as the Senate on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan resolution that would have linked granting Moscow permanent normal trade status to a halt in Russian arms sales to Syria.

Statements by a Russian official and a Moscow news report published Wednesday revealed that the Russian government is having second thoughts about its 2010 decision to cancel a sale of S-300s to Iran.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow and a member of the advisory board of the Russian defense ministry, was quoted July 4 as saying the decision not to sell S-300s to Iran "is a political decision as this [missile] system is not affected by international sanctions."

"If the Syrian regime falls without Russia's consent and as a result of interference by Westerners, or if Moscow is not satisfied with the process of a peaceful transfer of power to an interim government, then it is possible that Moscow might react by selling the S-300 missiles to Iran," Pukhov said.

Pukhov said the fall of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria would increase the chances of a Western attack on Iran, and thus selling S-300s would be a timely decision. The Iranian news outlet Asre Iran reported the comments.

The newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday that a threat by Iran to sue Moscow for $4 billion for canceling the S-300 sale could reverse the decision.

Russian government leaders fear the Court of Arbitration in Geneva will rule in Iran’s favor. As a result, "experts do not rule out the Russian Federation beginning to deliver the S-300 to Iran," the report said, quoting a Russian government source.

Iran sued the Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport for $4 billion over the canceled sale.

A Russian reversal on the S-300s would be a major setback for the Obama administration, which has touted the arms sale cancellation by Moscow as a major policy achievement.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on June 21 told the Senate Finance Committee, which on Wednesday approved legislation that would grant permanent normal trade status to Russia, that "by working together with Russia over the last three and a half years, we have shown that we can achieve tangible results that matter to our own self-interest and national security."

Burns mentioned the New START arms treaty and noted Russia "voluntarily cancelled the sale of a sophisticated air defense system to Iran, a contract worth over a billion dollars."

Additionally, in written answers to questions posed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Clinton was asked how long Moscow would comply with U.N. sanctions and freeze S-300 sales to Iran.

"We appreciate the restraint that Russia has implemented over the course of several years in not transferring the S-300 to Iran," Clinton stated on June 17, 2010. "We hope that Russia’s restraint will serve to encourage other potential arms suppliers to adopt a rigorous approach to implementing 1929’s provisions on conventional arms transfers."

Senate aides said new concerns over Russian S-300 transfers come as the Senate Finance Committee rejected an amendment to the Russian trade legislation that would have delayed granting PNTR status for Russia until the president certified that Moscow is not supplying arms to the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

The resolution, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), was defeated after Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, withdrew his support for the measure, Senate aides said.

During debate on the Cornyn Syria amendment, Kerry indicated that he would not oppose past arms deals between Russia and Syria to go through as long as no new arms contracts were signed.

Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth said the amendment was defeated 16 to 8. "Sen. Kerry, along with others, spoke out against it on the grounds that it was counterproductive to achieving its stated goal."

A Senate aide said: "On the same day that Moscow is working hard to reverse its supposed suspension of the S-300 sales to Tehran, John Kerry condoned Russian arms sales to Syria.  How low can you go?"

The Cornyn amendment was based on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution that has been held up by Kerry since June 14. It has 13 cosponsors, including seven Republicans and six Democrats.