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Russia confirms it has delivered missile systems to Iran

Minister says more deals with Tehran possible

MOSCOW -- Russia said yesterday it had delivered new anti aircraft missile systems to Iran and would consider more requests from Tehran for defensive weapons, immediately drawing criticism from the United States.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms and undermining security in the Middle East. The United Nations has banned sensitive nuclear trade with Iran but there are no sanctions on conventional weapons.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Moscow that Russia had supplied the modern short-range anti aircraft systems TOR-M1.

"We're developing our military and technical cooperation with Iran in accordance with international law and will continue to develop it," he said. "And if Iran wants to buy defensive, I underline defensive, equipment for its armed forces then why not?"

Washington and Israel have criticized the contract, saying Tehran could use them against its neighbors.

And the U S State Department in Washington D.C. said it was disappointed Russia had gone ahead with the deal.

"We don't think that it's an appropriate signal to be sending to the government of Tehran when they continue to be in defiance of U N Security Council resolutions," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

"We also believe as well that we certainly don't want to see any kind of lethal aid or assistance given to any country that's a state sponsor of terror. And as we've said, Iran is the leading state sponsor in the world."

Ivanov, also a deputy prime minister and seen as a potential successor to President Vladimir Putin, did not say how many missile systems had been delivered or when the deliveries took place.

Russian arms sales with Iran have strained relations with Washington, which suspects Tehran of using a nuclear power program to cover the development of atomic weapons.

Russia, building Iran's first nuclear power plant in Bushehr, says Tehran does not have the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran says it has a right to develop its civilian nuclear sector and denies seeking nuclear arms.

A defense ministry source later said deliveries of hardware under the $1 billion TOR-M1 missile deal had not yet been completed.

Last year Russia joined U N sanctions against Iran, which introduced restrictions on Iran's trade in sensitive nuclear materials and technology .

But Moscow says the sanctions do not apply to the missile systems, which are designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at medium and low altitudes.

"The U N resolution that was accepted and for which the Russian Federation voted, does not apply to contracts made by Iran," Ivanov said.