Obama: US could ‘penetrate’ Iran S-300 defense system

President says America could bypass Russian-made missiles if it must, warns Iran not to send weapons to Yemen

US President Barack Obama speaks to MSNBC on April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: screenshot/MSNBC)
US President Barack Obama speaks to MSNBC on April 21, 2015. (Photo credit: screenshot/MSNBC)

US President Barack Obama warned that the US could penetrate any air defense system Iran has, should a military option be needed, playing down concerns over Russia’s decision to supply advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Tehran last week.

“Even if they’ve got some air defense systems, if we had to, we could penetrate them,” Obama told MSNBC late Tuesday.

The US president urged to keep things “in perspective,” noting that the US defense budget was “somewhere just a little under $600 billion. Theirs is a little over $17 billion.”

“This is a sale that’s been pending for six years,” Obama said. “It’s of concern, we object to it, particularly because right now we’re still negotiating [a nuclear agreement].”

The US-led P5+1 world powers were negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran to curb its atomic program, with a final deal set to be penned by June 30. Talks are set to resume in Vienna later this week. The initial framework, known as the Lausanne agreement, has been criticized as not having extracted enough concessions from Tehran and being too soft on the Islamic Republic, leaving it with too many capabilities to break out to the bomb and not being tough enough regarding the lifting of sanctions.

Last week, Obama indicated that the US was open to discussing the immediate lifting of sanctions on Iran, as demanded by Tehran but contrary to what the initial agreement calls for.

Israel, particularly, has been a vocal opponent of the deal, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the deal would threaten the very survival of Israel and would pave the way for Iran to become a nuclear states.

Obama said Tuesday that it was“up to the Iranians to make sure that they come to the table prepared to memorialize what has already been agreed to.”

In the MSNBC interview on Tuesday, the US president also issued a warning to Iran against delivering weapons to Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, said to be armed and trained by the Revolutionary Guards.

“There’s a reason why we keep some of our ships in the Persian Gulf region and that is to make sure we maintain freedom of navigation. And what we’ve said to them is if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that’s a problem.”

“What we need to do is bring all the parties together and find a political arrangement,” he said. “It is not solved by having another proxy war in Yemen. We’ve indicated to the Iranians that they need to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel was treating Russia’s move to supply the S-300 air system to Iran with “utmost gravity.”

“Israel views with utmost gravity the supply of S-300 missiles from Russia to Iran, especially at a time when Iran is stepping up its aggression in the region and around the borders of the State of Israel,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The prime minister also reiterated Israel’s stance about the framework long-term nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, saying it didn’t address Iran’s regional military aspirations.

“Israel also views with utmost gravity the fact that there is no reference to this aggression in the agreement being made between the major powers and Iran,” he said. “There is no stipulation that this aggression be halted, whether at the start of the agreement or as a condition for the lifting of sanctions.

On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to Israeli media reports to the effect that Jerusalem was considering arms sales to Ukraine in response to the planned S-300 supply, warning Israel against such a “counterproductive” move.

Netanyahu spoke with Putin on Thursday, but failed to convince to halt the sale. Channel 2 reported that he may go to Moscow to meet with Putin in person to try to persuade him against it.

Putin defended his decision to sell the system to the Iranians, saying Russia’s 2010 ban against it was voluntary and not connected to other sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

US officials say the sale is more a sign of Russia’s economic woes and less a desire to cause controversy in the West.

Obama said Friday he was surprised that Russia’s suspension of missile sales to Iran “held this long.”

AP contributed to this report.

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