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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Visiting Khatami to Deal For Arms

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After years of complying with a self-imposed ban on arms sales to Tehran, Moscow hopes to secure a number of lucrative new deals when Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrives Monday for a four-day official visit.

Khatami is scheduled to meet Monday with President Vladimir Putin and sign a cooperation treaty, the first major accord to be clinched by the two countries since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

The planned treaty will not make Russia and Iran strategic partners, but will further strengthen "partner-like, neighborly relations," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Loskov told Interfax on Sunday.

Russia also expects to secure a number of arms deals. Viktor Komardin, deputy general director of the main arms exporter Rosoboronexport, said in a recent interview to Interfax that some deals will be signed by the end of the year.

The government has not divulged details of possible deals, but sources and analysts say they may include spare parts for Russian-made weapons, new fighter jets and possibly an air-defense system.

One analyst, however, said Russia's willingness to sell arms is likely to be tempered by a wish to avoid infuriating the United States, which is worried about the spread of missile technology to Iran and other countries it views as "states of concern."

Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Safari, was quoted by Interfax last month as saying Russia could earn up to $7 billion in the next few years by resuming military cooperation with Iran.

That figure is unrealistic, according to Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, who said Russian sales to Iran could be expected to total $400 million annually. Even this, he said, would allow the Russian defense industry to "leave the Chinese-Indian ghetto" — at the moment these two countries account for more than 60 percent of Russia's arms exports.

During his Moscow visit, Khatami also is expected to negotiate with Putin on how the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Sea should be shared.

During the four-day stay, the Iranian delegation also is to visit the Flight Control Center outside Moscow, which runs some of Russia's space fleet, including the Mir space station. The Iranians are to travel to St. Petersburg and Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan.

Iran's defense minister and the deputy chief of its general staff are to hold talks with Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who made a trip to Tehran in December with Rosoboronexport's Komardin to discuss arms sales and agree upon training of Iranian officers in Russian military academies.

Prior to the visit, Sergeyev told reporters in Moscow that Russia will not sell "offensive" arms systems to Iran.

One Russian official familiar with Khatami's Moscow agenda said that Iranian generals are interested first of all in negotiating procurement of spare parts for their Russian-made arms and systems, such as MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 bombers.

Iran is also interested in procuring anti-ship missiles and air defense systems from Russia, Pukhov of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies said in a telephone interview.

But out of consideration of U.S. concerns, he said, Russia is unlikely to agree to sell the S-300PMU-2 air defense system, which has a range of 200 kilometers. Or the Yakhont or Moskit missiles, which have a range of 300 kilometers and 150 kilometers, respectively, even though Tehran would be willing to procure warships to carry the missiles.

Pukhov said sales of these missiles, which could be used to block oil shipments across the Persian Gulf, would "infuriate" the U.S. administration and its Persian Gulf allies, and could prompt Washington to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Moscow will most definitely agree, however, to sell air defense systems of a shorter range, such as Tor-M1 and Buk, which would be met with less concern in Washington, Pukhov said.

Pukhov also noted that Moscow will probably offer to upgrade Iran's Su-25 attack planes and MiG-29 fighters to enable these planes to launch air-to-surface missiles and laser-guided bombs.

One defense industry source said AVPK Sukhoi will offer Iran its range of fighters, including Su-30MK, though any deal will have to be mediated by Rosoboronexport.

A secret memorandum signed in 1995 by then-U.S. Vice President Albert Gore and then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin obliged Russia to stop deliveries of weaponry systems under existing agreements by Dec. 31, 2001, and to refrain from signing new arms deals.

But Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters Nov. 24 that Moscow will not honor the deal.

Prior to the signing of this memorandum, Russia had delivered three Project 877EKM diesel submarines and eight MiG-29 fighters to Iran and sold a T-72 tank production license as part of a series of deals dating back to 1989-91.

These deals also provided for delivery of Su-24MK aircraft and S-200VE air defense systems and the sale of a BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle production license, according to Pukhov.

Moscow's military cooperation with Tehran and its assistance in building a nuclear power plant in Iran have been a major point of contention between the United States and Russia for years.

The Kremlin has maintained that Russia honors its obligations to prevent proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies. Putin, however, told the Security Council last month that his administration and the federal government need to further increase control of exports of sensitive technologies, materials and hardware.

He also said that some agencies, including the Nuclear Power Ministry and Russian Aviation and Space Agency, "have not done everything" in the way of controlling exports of sensitive technologies and hardware.

Moscow has a contract to build one reactor for the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran and the chance to build three more. Russia will earn more than $2 billion if it builds all four reactors, according to Ivan Safranchuk of the Moscow-based Center for Policy Studies. But late last week, a senior Iranian official criticized Russian contractors for delays, saying the unit was only half-finished after seven years, Reuters reported.

"Russian experts fully master nuclear technology. But their management and planning is not on a level with their technical quality,'' Iranian television quoted Assadollah Sabouri, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying Thursday.

Sabouri said the first unit was about 50 percent completed and its main equipment would be installed during the next 12 months.

In addition to the planned military cooperation, Russia and Iran have found their positions converge on a number of issues recently, including their opposition to the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to the Iranian News Daily's web site.

Tehran also supports Moscow's efforts to tackle "turmoil" in Chechnya, but disapproves of Russia's vision of how the five nations around the Caspian Sea, including Iran and Russia, should divide its oil and fishery resources, according to the daily's editorial on Khatami's planned visit.