Russia rejects extending Iran arms embargo, defying US

Henry Meyer

Russia, seeing prospects for multi-billion dollar deals, ruled out extending a United Nations-approved arms embargo on Iran that expires in October next year, despite U.S. warnings that lifting the restrictions will jeopardize global security.

“We’re not ready to do the bidding of our American colleagues,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency in an interview published Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo earlier this year warned that allowing renewed weapons sales to Iran will mean the country will be “unleashed to create new global turmoil.”

In this July 17, 2017, file photo, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives at the State Department in Washington.

The removal of the UN arms embargo within five years was part of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which the U.S. withdrew from last year. President Donald Trump’s administration has pursued a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran in a bid to force the Islamic Republic back to the negotiating table. Russia, China and European powers have tried unsuccessfully to salvage the landmark accord curbing Iran’s nuclear activities, though formally it’s still in existence.

Ending the ban on military sales “is important for Russia as it will bring it closer to Iran and opens up the world’s last big untapped weapons markets,” said Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a defense-industry consultancy in Moscow. According to a recent report published by the think-tank, Iran could become a major customer for Russian hardware, including fighter jets, submarines and air-defense systems.

The arms embargo bars Iran from buying offensive weapons. Russia has sold its S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran after ending a self-imposed moratorium that it put in place at Israel’s request.

Iran wants to purchase weapons “it has largely been unable to acquire for decades” when the embargo expires, an assessment released by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said in November.

Iran is already targeting military supplies, primarily from Russia but also from China, the Pentagon report found. Iran’s potential acquisitions include Russian Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers and T-90 tanks. Iran has also shown interest in buying the S-400 air-defense system and Bastion coastal defense system from Russia, it said.