On April 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on the sale of advanced S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the embargo was no longer necessary given progress in nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. “We believe that at this stage there is no longer need for this kind of embargo - from the Russian side it was unilateral and voluntary,” he said.
Tehran welcomed the move while Washington and Tel Aviv expressed concern. “Given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region in places like Yemen or Syria or Lebanon that this isn’t the time to be selling these kinds of systems to them,” State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said.
Moscow originally imposed the ban and cancelled a $800 million contract to supply the systems to Iran in 2010 after it supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Iran and restricted the arms trade. Iran hopes to receive the missile systems by the end of the year. But a top adviser to Putin told Interfax that delivery of the missile system “will take some time.” The timing for delivery “depends on our manufacturers. I think it will be a minimum of half a year to finish the work,” said Nikolai Patrushev. The following are excerpted remarks on the deal by Russian, Iranian, U.S. and Israeli officials.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
The world’s six major powers and Iran made “substantial progress in resolving the Iranian nuclear program [dispute]. The political framework of the final deal agreed upon was highly praised by the international community.”
“We believe that at this stage there is no longer need for this kind of embargo - from the Russian side it was unilateral and voluntary.”
“Meanwhile, a modern air defense system is now very relevant to Iran, especially taking into account the severe escalation of tensions in neighboring areas and especially the rapid development of military activity in Yemen in recent weeks.”
The system “will not put at risk the security of any state in the region, including Israel.”
“We welcome the right decision by President Putin to move forward... I think it is a step in the right direction and we are looking forward to expanding our relations.” —April 14, 2015 at a press conference in Madrid, Spain
State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf
MS HARF: Well, we’ve certainly made our concerns with the sale of the S-300 system to Iran known for some time. This certainly isn’t new. The Secretary raised those concerns in a call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning. We don’t believe it’s constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with this, but we’ve worked very closely with the Russians on the P5+1 negotiations. We don’t think this will have an impact on unity in terms of inside the negotiating room. So they did discuss it, discussed the Iran negotiations in general as well, and I don’t have more of a readout for you than that.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it the Administration’s position that the S-300s, the transfer of them to Iran would violate existing sanctions?
MS HARF: In terms of UN Security Council sanctions, it’s my understanding that it would not.
And we think given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region in places like Yemen or Syria or Lebanon that this isn’t the time to be selling these kinds of systems to them. So in general, that’s what our concerns are based on. And we have concerns about things separate and apart from whether they would be a violation of Security Council sanctions.
QUESTION: The Kremlin has said that Putin has lifted a ban on providing anti-missile rocket systems to Iran. This is also coming as Russia seems to be prepared to supply grain and other equipment in an oil-for-goods swap with Iran that may position them to have kind of a head start when and if sanctions are lifted. Is the President -- has he been briefed on this? What is his response?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julia, we’ve seen those reports as they relate to the possible sale of the S-300 anti-ballistic missile system to Iran. The United States has previously made known our objections to that sale, and I understand that Secretary Kerry had an opportunity to raise these concerns once again in a recent conversation with his Russian counterpart, Mr. Lavrov.
I’m not in a position to, obviously, speculate on the decision-making process that Russia is engaged in right now, but I do think it’s safe to say that Russia understands that the United States certainly takes very seriously the safety and security of our allies in the region.
As it relates to the other oil-for-goods discussion, this is something that has been -- this is a discussion that has been underway for several months now, and we’ve obviously been aware that there are proposals involving Russia and Iran to, essentially, barter Iranian oil for Russian goods. We’re studying the details, and if this sort of arrangement were to move forward it would raise serious concerns and even could potentially raise sanctions concerns. So we’re going to continue to evaluate that moving forward as well.
QUESTION: Could it endanger finalizing a deal by the end of June?
MR. EARNEST: Well, one of the things that we have indicated has been critical to our success in this diplomatic process has been the unity of the international community. And the United States and our partners in Europe have been able to work closely with both Russia and China to bring Iran to the negotiating table by putting in place and enforcing tough sanctions, and engaging in a negotiating position that has succeeded in getting Iran to make serious commitments about limitations and, in some cases, even rolling back specific elements of their nuclear program.
So we value the coordination and unity that we have been able to maintain throughout this rather long process. In fact, we recently even saw that an official from the foreign ministry in Russia indicated that the U.S. document outlining the parameters of the agreement with Iran was consistent and did reflect the agreement that was reached at the table. And again, that underscores the kind of unity around the specific agreement that we believe has been critical to our success.
We’ll obviously evaluate these two other proposals moving forward. And obviously we have been in direct touch with Russia to make sure that they understand -- and they do -- the potential concerns we have.
—April 13, 2015 in a press briefing
“The sale of advanced weapons to Iran is the result of the dangerous agreement that is emerging between Iran and the [six world] powers.
“After this arms deal [for the S-300] is there anyone who can seriously claim that the [framework] agreement with Iran will increase the security in the Middle East.”
—April 14, 2015 in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz
“At a time when Iran denies clause after clause of the agreement declared last week, the international community has already begun easing its sanctions.
“This is a direct result of the legitimacy that Iran is receiving from the nuclear deal that is being prepared, and proof that the Iranian economic growth which follows the lifting of sanctions will be exploited for arming itself and not for the welfare of the Iranian people.
“Instead of demanding that Iran desist from the terrorist activity that it is carrying out in the Middle East and throughout the world, it is being allowed to arm itself with advanced weapons that will only increase its aggression.”
The Iran-Russia deal is “something we have been warning about even before the details [of the agreement] were concluded. It was clear, even then, that sanctions will be lifted, and that of course this will influence and strengthen the Iranian economy.
“This issue was not discussed at all [during nuclear talks with Iran], and this is one of the biggest holes in the agreement. It is outside of the framework agreement, and this is certainly very disturbing. I hope that there will be time in the coming months to fix this.
“We continue to warn about the bad agreement that is developing with Iran, which does not include terrorism, missile components, or the military dimension of the Iranian nuclear project. Hence, we are against this bad agreement.”