Iran Seeks 30 Tu-204s for $1Bln

Iran has started talks to buy 30 Tupolev passenger aircraft worth more than $1 billion, a source with knowledge of the deal said Monday.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said the deal for 30 Tu-204 aircraft was likely to be reached by the end of the year.

The deal would greatly embarrass Western powers, which are trying to persuade Russia and China to join them in tightening sanctions on Iran to make it halt its uranium enrichment program. They suspect it of trying to build nuclear weapons, but Iran says it wants only to produce electricity.

A spokesman for Ilyushin Finance, which is selling the planes, confirmed that negotiations had begun.

"We have started talks to deliver a new order of aircraft," spokesman Andrei Lipovetsky said, but he declined further comment.

Russia has already sold military air defense systems to Iran and is building a nuclear plant in Bushehr, to the annoyance of the United States and Israel.

Russia and China, both with strong trade ties with Iran and veto power on the UN Security Council, have argued in favor of more negotiations to encourage Iran to comply with the international demand for a halt in uranium enrichment.

President Vladimir Putin, trying to revive the country's once-mighty aviation industry, has grouped companies like Tupolev and Sukhoi into one giant, state-controlled holding called the United Aviation Corporation.