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Putin Throws Wrench in Iran Nuke Talks

Rob Garver

In an announcement that seems certain to further inflame opinions about a proposed deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capacity, it was revealed today that Russia’s state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec has offered to sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.

The announcement came on the same day that the most recent round of negotiations between Iran and the U.S., U.K., Russia, China, France and Germany ended with the news that a preliminary agreement had been struck on a potential deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program for a decade. Russia was seen as an important player in the talks, in part because it was seen as sympathetic to Iran. 

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Russia and Iran have a historically complicated relationship, but the two countries have grown closer in recent years. Iranian leaders have praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for his willingness to stand up to Western powers, particularly the United States.

According to the government-owned news agency TASS the head of Rostec announced the possible missile deal on Monday. At an arms show in Abu Dhabi, Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov said a deal with Iran for the Antey-2500 missile system was on the table.

In the face of objections from Western nations, Russia had cancelled the sale to Iran of a different system, known as the S-300, in 2010 – a decision that greatly angered leaders in Tehran. The Antey-2500 is an upgraded version of the S-300, with a range of more than 150 miles. (Russia’s own military uses an even more powerful version of the Antey-2500.) The price tag on the Antey-2500, which Russia has already sold to Venezuela, is $1 billion per system. 

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"As far as Iran is concerned, we have offered Antey-2500 instead of S-300. No decision has been made yet," Chemezov reportedly said.

The timing of the announcement is particularly odd because Russia is a member of the so-called P5 + 1 group of countries that has been negotiating with Iran in hopes of getting the Islamic Republic to scale back its enrichment of uranium. 

Because Iran’s leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, the prospect of Tehran amassing the materials and technology necessary to build nuclear weapons is a subject of intense concern to Israel and its allies. Israel has also been openly hostile to the deal taking shape in the P5+1 talks, which would allow Iran to retain the capacity to enrich some uranium. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to give a controversial speech to the U.S. Congress next month highlighting what he sees as the danger of a “bad” deal with Iran.

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Israel has used its formidable air power to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities in the past, and has indicated that it reserves the right to do so in the future should it feel that the Iranian nuclear program poses an imminent threat.

The possibility that Iran’s anti-aircraft capabilities might receive a major upgrade just as a nuclear deal that Israel already opposes is coming together is sure to generate more angst in Jerusalem and, according to some, raises questions about Russia’s good faith in the negotiations. 

“It is certainly troubling that Russia is making these offers during the negotiations,” said Anna Borshchevskaya, an adjunct fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. On the question of Russia’s commitment to a deal, she added, “It ought to raise some doubts.”

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Borshchevskaya said that Russia, “continues to not see Iran’s nuclear program as much of a threat as we do in the west.”

Russia has provided Iran with expert assistance in the construction of its existing nuclear facilities, and last month signed a deal to build as many as eight more.

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