MOSCOW – Russia has begun delivery of Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran, a Defense Ministry official said Friday, confirming that Moscow would proceed with arms deals with Tehran in spite of Western criticism.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue, declined to specify when the deliveries had been made and how many systems had been delivered.
Ministry officials have previously said Moscow would supply 29 of the sophisticated missile systems to Iran under a $700 million contract signed in December, according to Russian media reports.
The United States called on all countries last spring 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.
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.
The Tor-M1 deal, involving conventional weapons, does not violate any international agreements.
Russian officials say that the missiles are purely defensive weapons with a limited range.
According to the Interfax news agency, 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, $800 million contract to build Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, which is nearly complete. Interfax reported Friday that the head of Russia's atomic energy program, Sergei Kiriyenko, was due to travel to Tehran on Dec. 11 for a meeting of the Russian-Iranian commission for trade and economic cooperation, which he co-chairs with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Russia strongly supports Iran's right to nuclear energy but has joined the United States and Europe in demanding it halt enrichment to ease concerns.