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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Firm on Weapons Sales to Iran

Russia is in talks to sell air defense missiles to Iran despite strong U.S. objections, and hopes to soon become the world's second-largest arms exporter, a senior Cabinet official said Wednesday.

"Iran is an independent country under no bans or embargoes," Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said at a news conference.

Klebanov said Russia was conducting "active talks" on selling air defense missiles to Iran, but wouldn't specify their type or say when the contracts could be signed.

"We will not sell any offensive weapons," he said, according to the Interfax.

The Russian government has not divulged details of possible arms deals. Officials have indicated that Iran had expressed interest in buying S-300 air defense missiles, fighter jets, helicopters, patrol boats, tanks, armored personnel carriers and other weapons.

Russia's cooperation with Iran has fueled tension in U.S.-Russian relations.

President Vladimir Putin promised during Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's visit to Russia earlier this month to sell more weapons to Iran and finish building a Russian-designed nuclear reactor in the Iranian city of Bushehr.

The U.S. administration has strongly cautioned Moscow against any arms sales or nuclear aid to Iran, which it accuses of sponsoring terrorism. The Kremlin insists that weapons sales to Iran do not violate any international agreements, and that the reactor deal could not help Iran develop nuclear weapons.

Putin and other Russian officials have said that arms deals with Iran would bring much-needed cash into the struggling Russian defense industry. Iran's ambassador to Moscow said recently that Tehran could buy up to $7 billion worth of Russian weapons in coming years.

Last year Russia's weapons sales neared $4 billion, a record high for the decade but still just a fraction of the approximately $20 billion annually exported by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Klebanov argued Wednesday that the Soviet-era amounts were misleading, because many of the weapons were provided on credit or given free. "We effectively are selling more now than during the Soviet times," he said.

Russia is currently the world's fourth-largest arms exporter, behind the United States, Britain and France.

Klebanov said that in two to four years Russia could surge to the No. 2 spot behind the United States, but acknowledged that the goal would be hard to reach.

"We can take second place, although political and financial conditions of arms trade are becoming more difficult," Klebanov said, adding that cash-strapped Russia is unable to offer deferments and discounts that other leading arms traders can.