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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Iran Arms Deals Defended By Ivanov

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Russia defended new arms agreements with Iran against a stinging rebuke from the United States on Tuesday, accusing critics of misjudging attempts to reinforce stability in the region.

The remarks, issued as Iranian President Mohammad Khatami toured Russian space facilities, were a response to Washington's warning to limit military cooperation that the Kremlin says it will pursue on economic and political grounds.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Western countries had ignored the political side of Khatami's visit, including a major political treaty.

"We want our relations to serve as an element of stability in the region and throughout the world," Interfax quoted Ivanov as telling Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamal Kharrazi.

"Relations between Russia and Iran are not directed against third countries. On the contrary, they are intended to stabilize the situation in the region where our countries cooperate."

Ivanov said Iran and Russia had notably cooperated in helping end the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan.

As Khatami's visit began on Monday, President Vladimir Putin set the tone by saying Russia would proceed with sales of conventional arms to Iran, and finish building a nuclear power plant. He said arms supplied would be strictly defensive.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in response urged Moscow to refrain from supplying advanced conventional weapons or sensitive military technologies.

Russian officials said such sales were a matter for the two states to decide alone and that international commitments on containing weapons of mass destruction would be upheld.

The Russian government has not divulged details of possible deals, but officials have indicated that Iran has expressed interest in buying the S-300 air defense missile system, fighter jets, helicopters, patrol boats and other weapons. Officials have suggested that the deals are worth about $7 billion.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Khatami, dressed in brown and black Moslem clerical robes, showed his country's interest in space technology Tuesday during a tour of the mission control facility that guides the Mir space station and communicates with the International Space Station.

Khatami and his delegation asked whether Mir flies over the United States on its orbits.

He then surveyed a wall covered in portraits of Russian cosmonauts, including the first man in space, Yury Gagarin.

Moving on to the command center for the $95 billion International Space Station, Khatami watched pictures broadcast from the ISS of astronauts Andrew Thomas and Paul Richards working outside the station.

Yury Koptev, head of the Russian Aerospace Agency, told reporters that the tour underlined Russia and Iran's intentions to cooperate in the field of space and aviation.

"Iran has plans to develop high tech industries and join in all areas of scientific and technical progress," said Koptev. "Cooperation with Russia in this field is a natural move."

Russia is bidding to build a telecommunications satellite for Iran, and the two countries are discussing deals under which Iran would build Russian-designed Tu-334 and Tu-204 jetliners under license. A jet deal could pump badly needed money into Russia's lagging aircraft industry.

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said Russia was "expected to win" the satellite bid, citing a report in the government daily Iran that the delegation in Moscow was seeking to complete the deal by the middle of next week.

IRNA said the satellite, dubbed Zohreh or Venus, would be the first of six in a planned $300 million project that has been on the drawing board for 23 years but never implemented.

Khatami later received an honorary doctorate from Moscow's prestigious Institute for International Relations and delivered a speech on freedom and justice that was filled with references to Russian literature.

Nearly 1,000 people, mainly students, packed the auditorium, greeting Khatami like a rock star, with a standing ovation, enthusiastic applause and long whistles when the Iranian leader arrived.

(AP, Reuters)