MOSCOW – Russia said Tuesday that it would be at least six months before it could deliver the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, but the Kremlin confirmed that a barter deal to supply Russian goods in exchange for Iranian oil was already being implemented.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed his move in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling him that Israel shouldn't be worried about the "purely defensive" weapon.
The United States criticized Putin's decision on Monday to lift a five-year ban on delivery of the missile system, which would give the Islamic republic's military a strong deterrent against any air attack.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also said a Russian-Iranian barter deal would raise serious concerns and could interfere with sanctions that the United States and other Western nations imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.
On Tuesday, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed statements by a Russian diplomat that Russia already was supplying Iran with various goods in exchange for oil. Peskov said this trade was not barred under the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.
Back in 2010, Russia had linked its decision to freeze the S-300 delivery to the U.N. sanctions, but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued on Monday that the decision was taken voluntarily as part of efforts to encourage progress in talks.
After Russia suspended delivery, Iran accused Russia of breach of contract and filed a lawsuit with a court in Geneva seeking $4 billion in damages.
Ali Shamkhani, who heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Tuesday in Moscow that the lawsuit would be withdrawn only after delivery of the S-300s, which he said Iran expected to happen by the end of the year, Russian news agencies reported.
His Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, said delivery would depend on the manufacturers. "I believe they will need at least six months to complete this work," he told the Interfax news agency.
Lavrov said the preliminary agreement on settling the Iranian nuclear standoff struck earlier this month made the S-300 ban unnecessary.
The framework agreement reached by Iran and six world powers is intended to significantly restrict its ability to produce nuclear weapons while giving it relief from international sanctions. The agreement is supposed to be finalized by June 30. There is no firm agreement yet on how or when to lift the international sanctions on Iran.
Israel pointed at the Russian move as a signal that the framework deal had encouraged Tehran to become more aggressive.
"The advanced arms sale to Iran is a result of the dangerous emerging deal between Iran and the West," Netanyahu said. "Are there still those even after this arms deal who seriously say that an agreement with Iran will increase security in the Middle East?"
Netanyahu said he told Putin that the deal would increase Iran's aggression in the region and undermine security in the Middle East.
The Kremlin said in its readout of the conversation that Putin "thoroughly explained the Russian leadership's logic in that context, emphasizing the fact that the S-300 is a purely defensive system that wouldn't jeopardize security of Israel or any other countries of the Middle East."
Speaking in Luebeck Tuesday while welcoming his counterparts from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized Russia's decision, saying that "it is also too early to offer rewards."