updated 1/16/2007 8:04:47 PM ET 2007-01-17T01:04:47

Russia’s defense minister said Tuesday that Moscow has sold air defense missiles to Iran, the first high-level confirmation that their delivery took place despite U.S. complaints.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov did not specify how many missile systems had been delivered, but a ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject said not all the systems under contract had been delivered.

“We have delivered short-range Tor-M1 missiles to Iran in accordance with the contract,” Ivanov told reporters.

Ivanov’s comments were the first official confirmation of the sale; previous reports had cited unidentified officials.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he was unaware of the sale. But, he said, generally, “I don’t think you’ve ever heard us say that it’s a good idea for anyone to be selling weapons to either Iran or to other state sponsors of terror.”

Ministry officials have previously said Moscow would supply 29 of the sophisticated missile systems to Iran under a $700 million contract signed in December 2005, according to Russian media reports.

“If the Iranian leadership has a desire to purchase more defensive weapons, we would do that,” Ivanov said, without elaborating.

The United States called on all countries last year to stop all arms exports to Iran, as well as ending all nuclear cooperation with it to put pressure on Tehran to halt uranium enrichment activities. Israel, too, has severely criticized arms deals with Iran.

Israeli concerns
“We would be concerned at any arms sales to the extremist regime in Tehran, a regime that has already been sanctioned by the international community because of its ongoing and flagrant violations of UN security council resolutions,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. “This is the time for the Iranian leadership to understand it must change course, not a time to reinforce extremist policies.”

Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the United States and its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop weapons.

The U.N. Security Council, where Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member, is currently stalemated on the severity of sanctions that should be imposed on Iran for defying its demand to cease uranium enrichment.

Russians defend sale of defensive weapons
Russian officials say the missiles are purely defensive with a limited range, and they argue that the Tor-M1 deal, involving conventional weapons, does not violate any international agreements.

“We are developing the military-technical cooperation with Iran based on the international law,” he said.

The Tor-M1 system can identify up to 48 targets and fire at two targets simultaneously at a height of up to 20,000 feet.

Russian media have reported previously that Moscow had conducted talks on selling even more powerful long-range S-300 air defense missiles, but Russian officials have denied that.

Moscow already has a lucrative, $1 billion contract to build Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran’s first. The plant is nearly complete.

Russia strongly supports Iran’s right to nuclear energy but has joined the United States and Europe in demanding it halt enrichment to ease international concerns.

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