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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Says Russia Sold Arms to Iran

The United States on Tuesday accused Russia of supplying arms to "state sponsors of terrorism," chiefly Iran, and slapped sanctions on a Russian defense company.

The charges -- which mirror U.S. accusations concerning Baghdad after the Iraq war started -- appear to be an attempt to pressure Moscow over its cooperation with Tehran, analysts said.

"The United States government has determined that the government of Russia transferred lethal military equipment to countries determined by the secretary of state to be state sponsors of terrorism," the U.S. State Department said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

A State Department official said the decision -- made Aug. 25 but announced only Tuesday -- was connected to the sale of laser-guided Krasnopol-M artillery shells to Iran.

He said sanctions have been imposed for one year on KBP Tula, the maker of the shells. KBP Tula is a state-owned company that produces anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems.

The sanctions bar KBP Tula from doing business with the U.S. government and from buying U.S. defense equipment.

KBP Tula said Tuesday that the sanctions were meaningless since it has no business in the United States and suggested that they were a warning to Moscow.

"This may be a way to put political pressure on the country," KBP Tula deputy chief engineer Andrei Morozov said by telephone from Tula.

He said KBP Tula does not have any contracts with Iran and has never sent it any arms.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, agreed that Tuesday's charges carried political overtones. "This is some kind of political game," he said.

The accusations came a day before U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was to arrive in Moscow to attend an international nonproliferation conference and less than two weeks before U.S. President George W. Bush hosts President Vladimir Putin at a summit at Camp David.

The timing may have something to do with U.S.-Russian differences over Iran's nuclear capacity and could be a message to Moscow that "the U.S. is very concerned about Iran and is willing to pick at anything," said Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.

In addition, with the gap closing on Moscow's and Washington's positions over the Iranian nuclear issue, the White House may be testing whether the Kremlin is willing to yield on other positions, such as on the sale of conventional weapons, Safranchuk said.

In 2000, Russia pulled out of a 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin deal under which it agreed not to deliver weapons to Iran. Analysts predicted at the time that Iran might become Russia's third largest client after China and India, but aside from a batch of helicopters and armored personnel carriers, there have been no reports of arms deliveries.

Washington has been most concerned about Russia's role in helping Iran build its nuclear industry through the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. To address concerns that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons, Russia has said it will freeze construction of the $1 billion plant and not supply any fuel unless Iran agrees to return all spent fuel.

The State Department official said Tuesday that the new charges were not connected to Iran's nuclear program or the Bush-Putin summit.

"I would not read into the timing," he said, speaking by telephone from Washington. "It is not linked to the upcoming summit and not designed to introduce any sour notes into the meeting."

He refused to say how the United States had learned about the Iran deal or when it was believed to have taken place. "We would not like to go into this. It is a sensitive issue," he said.

The finding means that Washington could have imposed sanctions on Russia, a move that would cut off all U.S. assistance to the country. The State Department, however, said it had decided this would not serve the national interests of the United States.

The United States directly accused the Russian government of supplying arms to "state sponsors of terrorism" last September and slapped sanctions on three Russian defense companies, including Tula KBP.

In 1999, the State Department placed sanctions on Tula KBP for the first time, after the company delivered Kornet anti-tank missiles to Syria.

In late March, Bush complained that Tula KBP and another Russian defense company had supplied Iraq with anti-tank guided missiles, GPS jammers and night-vision goggles in violation of UN sanctions. Moscow, along with Berlin and Paris, was fiercely opposed to a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and the U.S. complaint was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Russia into softening its stance.

KBP Tula has the right to export arms independently from state-owned arms mediator Rosoboronexport. It delivered $350 million worth of arms last year.