US wants Russia’s word on S-300

Washington says it seeks clarification from Moscow on whether it is selling an advanced surface-to-air missile defense system to Tehran.

“We have repeatedly made clear at senior levels of the Russian government that we would strongly oppose the sale of the S-300,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Monday.

His remarks came after Russia’s state arms exporter said Monday that it is supplying Iran with defensive weapons, including surface-to-air missiles. The exporter, however, stopped short of confirming whether sophisticated S-300 missiles would be sent to the country.

An unnamed Russian military source later claimed that the S-300 missiles as well as S-300PMU1 systems — which has a longer range than that of older versions — are both being prepared for delivery to Iran.

“This is a purely defensive weapon, intended to protect especially important sites from aerial attack,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

Despite the ambivalent reports, Iran hopes to acquire the system which would drastically increase its defensive capabilities. The country currently guards its air space with an outdated missile defense system.

The US State Department, meanwhile, is alarmed by the recent developments.

Spokesman Wood said the US government believes “this is not the time for business as usual with the Iranian government.”

The US, Israel and the EU-3 — Britain, France and Germany — accuse Iran of developing a military nuclear program. Under the allegation, Tel Aviv has threatened to launch military strikes to take out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Iran rejects the allegations and insists that its work is directed at the civilian applications of the technology.

According to the Associated Press, Israel and the US fear that the S-300 missiles could effectively protect Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz or the country’s first atomic power plant now under construction at Bushehr by Russian contractors.

A senior Russian military official confirmed last week that Moscow seeks to ensure stability in the volatile Middle East by continuing its military cooperation with Tehran.

“Military-technical cooperation between Russia and Iran has a positive influence on stability in this region,” Alexander Fomin, deputy head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said Wednesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, has brushed aside US criticism of Russian deals with Tehran. He said in October that the opposition to the arms sales is only aimed at sidelining Moscow in the global arms market.