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Peres: Russia to reconsider missile sale to Iran

Israeli President Shimon Peres said Wednesday the Kremlin may reconsider the delivery of air defense missiles to Iran that Israel and the U.S. fear could be used to protect Iran's nuclear facilities.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israeli President Shimon Peres said Wednesday the Kremlin has promised to reconsider the planned delivery of air defense missiles to Iran that Israel and the U.S. fear could be used to protect Iran's nuclear facilities.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made the pledge during their talks Tuesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Peres said.

"President Medvedev gave a promise he will reconsider the sales of S-300s because it affects the delicate balance which exists in the Middle East," Peres told reporters via video link from Sochi.

A Kremlin spokesman wouldn't immediately comment on Peres' statement.

Russia has signed a contract to supply the powerful S-300 missiles to Iran, but has dragged its feet on delivering them.

Israel and the United States fear that Iran could use the missiles to protect its nuclear facilities — including the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz or the country's first atomic power plant, which is being completed by Russian workers in Bushehr. That would make a military strike on the Iranian facilities much more difficult.

Issue is source of intense wrangling
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak insisted last month that Israel would not rule out any response to the Iranian nuclear program — an implied warning that it would consider a pre-emptive strike to thwart Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Israeli and U.S. officials have strongly urged Moscow not to supply the missiles, and the issue has been the subject of intense diplomatic wrangling for years.

Israel wants Russia, which has close ties with Iran, to increase pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. Iran, whose president has expressed hatred of Israel, maintains its nuclear program is only designed to provide more electricity. Israel, the U.S. and other nations fear that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Moscow has supported limited U.N. sanctions on Iran, but opposed efforts by the U.S. and others to impose tougher measures.

"President Medvedev told me that Russia will not support an Iranian nuclear bomb under all circumstances," Peres said. "But he also mentioned that the Russian appreciation of what's taking place in Iran is different from the American one."

Russian officials confirmed in March that a contract for the S-300 missiles had been signed with Iran two years ago, but a top Russian defense official said in April that no deliveries had been made yet.

Iranian missiles test U.S.-Russia ties
Analysts said that Moscow could be using the S-300 contract as a bargaining chip in its relations with the U.S. and Israel.

Peres also said Wednesday that Iran's efforts to develop advanced missiles strained ties between Washington and Moscow. In May, Iran test-fired a new missile with a range of about 1,200 miles — far enough to strike Israel, southeastern Europe and U.S. bases in the Middle East.

"If it wasn't for Iranian missiles, maybe one of the thorny questions between Russia and the U.S. will disappear — the bases that the United States is building in Poland and the Czech (Republic)," Peres said in a reference to the previous U.S. administration's plans to build missile defense sites in Eastern Europe.

Russia has strongly opposed the U.S. plans as a threat to its security, dismissing Washington's claims that the missile defense system is aimed at countering a threat from Iran.

President Barack Obama has ordered a review of the missile defense plans, but reiterated the U.S. insistence that the missile defense system would pose no threat to Russia.

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