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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Admits It Instructed Iran in Arms

Russian intelligence agents for the past several years have quietly recruited scientists here to go to Iran and teach Iranian counterparts how to build missiles to carry deadly payloads as far as 2,000 kilometers, Russian and diplomatic sources said.

Russians and foreigners said officials of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB, recruited the scientists at Russian technological institutes and weapons factories for work in Iran. The contracts, however, were negotiated in Iran between the scientists and their hosts -- apparently to insulate the security service and the government in Moscow from responsibility.

The Iranians paid the institute or factory separately, Russian and foreign officials said.

The Federal Security Service still oversees Russia's sensitive arms factories and high-technology institutes. The agents, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, arranged for the scientists to leave Russia, Russian officials said. As in Soviet times, the government restricts the travel of technicians who possess knowledge of sophisticated technology.

Russia intends to stop recruitment and curb permission for the scientists to travel to Iran, the Russian officials said. The curtailment follows a January decree issued by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who has long denied that it was government policy to transfer missile technology to Iran. He and other Russian leaders insisted that any leakage was purely on a freelance basis -- the government did not break the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime, an international accord that Russia signed and that is supposed to discourage missile proliferation.

The repeated denials have left diplomats and some Russian observers wondering whether the government is willing or able to stop the flow of scientists to Tehran.

"If it wasn't government policy before, then how can they guarantee they can stop it now? If it was government policy, then they were lying before and who should believe them now?" said one Russian official.

If the new policy takes hold, one reason would be Russia's view that the economic gains from technology sales would be outweighed by the possible loss of financial support from the United States and Europe, a Russian official said. Another is the realization that Iran aims to build a missile program that eventually will make it independent of Moscow's help.

"The Russians are having to work from the basis that Iran is learning and has the money to build its own missiles. Is Russia really gaining an arms market, or is it just selling the store?" asked a Western diplomat.