Russia will not deliver the S-300 missile defense system to Iran in the near future, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying on Thursday.
“I do not think that it is a matter of the near future. It is far more important that a political and legal decision has been taken to open up such an opportunity,” Ryabkov said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia’s voluntary embargo on delivering the missile system to Iran is no longer needed due to progress in the resolution of the situation around Iran’s nuclear program.
Lavrov was referring to the understanding reached in Lausanne between Iran and world powers earlier this month on a framework for a final nuclear agreement between Iran and the international community.
A deal between Iran and Russia to procure the system dates back to 2007. According to the contract, Moscow was to deliver to Tehran five batteries of the missile systems of medium range worth over $800 million.
The Iranian side paid $166.8 million in advance. However, by mid-2010 the systems were not supplied to Iran. In September 2010, then-president Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree on implementing UN Security Council’s resolution 1929, specifically banning the S-300 supplies to Iran.
The contract was canceled and Moscow paid the money back to Tehran.
Last week, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the supply would go ahead, and Iran said it anticipated delivery by year’s end.
President Barack Obama said last week that he was surprised the Russian agreement not to supply the systems had held up as long as it had.
Obama said this week that the US could penetrate the S-300 system if necessary.
Speaking on the MSNBC program “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” Obama said of Iran: “Our defense budget is somewhere just a little under $600 billion. Theirs is a little over $17 billion. Even if they’ve got some air defense systems, if we had to, we could penetrate them.”
Israel strongly opposes the sale and has successfully lobbied against it in the past.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Putin by telephone and expressed Israel’s displeasure with the decision to lift the ban on selling the missile system.
“This step will only increase Iran’s aggression in the region and destabilize the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
Putin countered that the system was no threat to Israel since it is defensive in nature.
Netanyahu, a strong and vocal opponent of the Lausanne understandings, sees the Russian decision to lift the embargo on the sale as a direct proof of the failure of world powers to negotiate a good deal in Lausanne.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said last week that “Iran is continuing its quest to rearm. The S-300 deal we here about now – the Russian approval to renew a deal that was frozen in recent years – this is a direct result of the framework agreement reached in Lausanne.”
Israel is understood to be concerned that Iranian deployment of the S-300s could complicate any last-resort strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It has also warned that the systems could reach Syria and Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s air supremacy over Syria and Lebanon.