Moscow, AFP – Russian president Vladimir Putin has lifted a ban on supplying Iran with sophisticated S-300 air defence missile systems after Tehran’s landmark framework deal with the West over its nuclear program.
A decree signed by president Putin removed a ban on ‘the shipment from Russia to Iran’ of the S-300 missiles and sparked fierce condemnation from Israel of Iran’s perceived new ‘legitimacy’ on the international stage.
The move was swiftly criticised by Israel and the US military.
The decision to pull the delivery ban comes before any sanctions have been lifted on Iran, with difficult technical negotiations still ahead following the breakthrough April 2 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear drive.
‘Our opposition to these sales is long and public. We believe it’s unhelpful,’ Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters in Washington.
‘We are raising that through the appropriate diplomatic channels,’ he added.
Moscow blocked deliveries of the surface-to-air missiles to Tehran in 2010 after the United Nations slapped sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program barring hi-tech weapons sales.
Iran then filed a $US4 billion ($A5.21 billion) suit at an arbitration court in Geneva for the cancellation of the $US800 million order by Russia, which has long been Iran’s principal foreign arms supplier.
The framework deal agreed in Lausanne this month marked a crucial advance in a 12-year stand-off between Iran and the West, which disputes Tehran’s denial that it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov insisted the missile deliveries were not covered by the earlier UN sanctions and that the progress made in Switzerland meant there was no longer any need for Russia to maintain the ban on the missile deliveries.
Global powers must resolve a series of contentious issues by a June 30 deadline for a final nuclear deal, including the steps for lifting global sanctions imposed on Iran, and lingering questions over the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will have the final say on any deal, has plunged the accord into doubt suggesting that ‘nothing is binding’ while president Hassan Rouhani demanded that sanctions be immediately lifted when any deal is signed.
Global powers Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have said sanctions will only be gradually eased and want a mechanism to ensure they can be swiftly reimposed if Iran breaks its word.