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Russia halts sale of air defense missiles to Iran

By Glenn Kessler and Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 12, 2010; A08

Russia has frozen the sale of S-300 air defense missiles to Iran, Russian news agencies reported Friday, in a victory for the Obama administration in the wake of new U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran.

The sanctions ban the sale of eight categories of conventional weapons, including "missiles and missile systems," but a loophole in the language of the resolution suggested that defensive ground-to-air missile systems such as the S-300 were not covered by the ban. On Thursday, the day after the U.N. Security Council vote, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman indicated that the $800 million sale was still on and would not be affected by the sanctions.

On Friday, the Kremlin contradicted that suggestion. "S-300s fall under these sanctions," a Kremlin official was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying. "Therefore, these type of weapons cannot be supplied to Iran." The statement was amplified by news reports out of France, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met Friday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that Putin had told Sarkozy that Russia would "freeze the delivery of the S-300 missiles."

U.S. officials have pressed Russia hard for a commitment not to go ahead with the sale. "For the first time, the resolution calls for states to exercise vigilance and restraint in the sale or transfer of all other arms and related materiel," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington. "We appreciate Russia's restraint in the transfer of the S-300 missile system to Iran."

The Russian shift came on the same day that the Kremlin and the White House announced that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet with President Obama in Washington on June 24.

In a further snubbing of Iran, Medvedev, attending the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, made clear that any country under U.N. sanctions will not be permitted to join the mutual-security organization, which includes Russia, China and the four ex-Soviet states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Iran has observer status and has sought full membership.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday brushed off the new U.N. resolution against his country as "worthless paper" and appeared to blame the United States for "bullying" his ally China into voting for it.

Visiting Shanghai just two days after China succumbed to international pressure and supported a fourth round of sanctions, Ahmadinejad, at a news conference, aimed most of his wrath at the Obama administration and Israel, but seemed conciliatory toward Beijing.

"We have very good relations with China, and we have no reason to weaken our relations with China," Ahmadinejad said after touring the Iranian and Chinese pavilions at the Shanghai World Expo. "I said the problem is the United States."

He said the Obama administration had subjected other countries on the Security Council to "pressure and intimidation" and "bullying."

Ahmadinejad was scheduled to visit only Shanghai and had no meetings planned with senior Chinese officials. Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Uzbekistan for the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Richburg reported from Beijing. Researcher Zhang Jie in Beijing contributed to this report.

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