Iran Air could be banned from Europe if Tehran sells missiles to Moscow, US warns

Biden administration intent on stemming Russia’s weapons supply, fears arms deal could be imminent

In this picture from the official website of the Iranian Army on January 19, 2024, a missile is launched during a military drill in southern Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)
In this picture from the official website of the Iranian Army on January 19, 2024, a missile is launched during a military drill in southern Iran. (Iranian Army via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States and allies warned Iran on Friday that major Western economies will pile new sanctions on Tehran if it moves forward with an advancing plan to provide ballistic missiles to Russia for its war with Ukraine.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has raised alarms for months that Russia is seeking close-range ballistic missiles from Iran as Moscow struggles to replenish its dwindling supplies.

The US has yet to confirm that missiles have moved from Iran to Russia. But US officials are alarmed by comments by Iranian officials that suggest that a deal is imminent.

One action that the Group of Seven countries are mulling is to prohibit Iran Air, the country’s national air carrier, from flying to Europe, according to a senior Biden administration official. The official, who was not authorized to comment and insisted on anonymity, declined to preview other sanctions that the US is mulling beyond describing the potential action as “significant measures.”

“Were Iran to proceed with providing ballistic missiles or related technology to Russia, we are prepared to respond swiftly and in a coordinated manner including with new and significant measures against Iran,” the G7 leaders said in a statement.

Iran’s United Nations mission said last month that there are no legal restrictions to prevent it from making ballistic missile sales but that is “morally obligated to refrain from weapon transactions during the Russia-Ukraine conflict to prevent fueling the war.”

The US and Europe already impose extensive sanctions against Iran targeting individuals as well as limiting the country’s access to trade, financial services, energy, technology and other sectors. The sanctions on Iran are arguably the most extensive and comprehensive set of sanctions that the US maintains on any country, with thousands of individuals and entities targeted.

An Iranian-built missile is displayed during a rally as Milad telecommunication tower is seen in background, in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

The Democratic administration in January said that US intelligence officials had determined a Russian-Iran deal had not been completed but that they were concerned that Russia’s negotiations to acquire missiles from Iran were actively advancing. In February, citing six unnamed sources, Reuters reported that such a deal had gone through, furnishing Russia with hundreds of powerful surface-to-surface missiles

According to the White House, Iran hosted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September to show off a range of ballistic missile systems — a moment that sparked US concern that a deal could come together.

The US and other countries have taken steps aimed at thwarting the supply, sale or transfer involving Iran and ballistic missile-related items, including issuing guidance to private companies about Iranian missile procurement practices to make sure they aren’t inadvertently supporting Iran’s development efforts.

“We’ve sent very clear messages to Iran not to do it, this is a subject of considerable conversation among a number of countries,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a news conference on Friday in Vienna.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, speaks during a joint press conference with Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg at the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, March 15, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein, Pool Photo via AP)

The Biden administration has repeatedly sought to make the case that the Kremlin has become reliant on Iran and North Korea for the arms it needs to fight its war against Ukraine and has disclosed intelligence findings that it says show as much.

Russia has acquired and used North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine. Ukrainian officials, however, say that North Korean missiles when deployed by Russian forces have frequently missed targets.

Russia has received hundreds of one-way attack drones, as well as drone production-related equipment, from Iran, according to the White House. The Biden administration also has accused Tehran of providing Russia with materials to build a drone manufacturing plant east of Moscow.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia. Tehran later only acknowledged providing a small number before Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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