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Lavrov Rebuffs U.S. Warning on Iran

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday rebuffed a warning from the United States over a plan to sell surface-to-air missiles to Iran, saying Moscow needed no advice from Washington on its weapons sales.

The United States said Tuesday that it had warned Russia that delivering the S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran would have serious consequences for relations with Washington.

The S-300, which can shoot down several aircraft or missiles simultaneously, could allow Tehran to fend off a possible air strike by Israel or the United States on its nuclear program, changing the balance of power in the region.

But Lavrov said Moscow needed "no advice from across the ocean" about the sale of the S-300.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara during a visit by President Dmitry Medvedev, Lavrov added that Russia would not allow the destabilization of regions where it delivered arms.

Israel and the United States have asked Russia not to fulfill its contract to deliver the S-300 missile systems to Iran, although diplomats say Moscow is keen to keep the order as a bargaining chip with Tehran.

Western envoys in Moscow believe that Russia is unlikely to go as far as to deliver the S-300 to Iran, but the Kremlin likes to give the impression that it might, in order to maximize its leverage in international talks.

Iranian officials have expressed growing irritation at Russia's failure so far to supply the S-300.

Russian officials say Western powers, who suspect that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, are making a grave mistake by pushing Tehran into a corner.

The Kremlin has urged talks to resolve the problem while keeping open the possibility of more sanctions, though it has emphasized that these must be limited to measures targeted at possible nuclear proliferation.

The truck-mounted S-300, known in the West as the SA-20, fires missiles with a range of 150 kilometers that travel at more than 2 kilometers per second.

Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control, said Tuesday that he thought that Russia understood Washington's position and would be surprised if Moscow shipped the S-300 anti-aircraft system that Iran has ordered.

"We've made it very clear to the Russians that that would have a very significant impact on our bilateral relations," Samore said. "I think the Russians understand that the consequences would be very severe."

Samore also defended a decision by President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday to revive an agreement with Russia in which the two countries would cooperate on civilian nuclear energy, saying the Russians had been more cooperative on issues ranging from dealing with Iran to reducing nuclear arms.

But he stopped short of saying the proposed nuclear deal would be withdrawn if the Russians sent the anti-aircraft system to Iran or backed away from supporting a new resolution on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. “I think we are seeing good cooperation from the Russians, and I think that will be apparent to everybody once the Security Council takes action,” Samore said. “I think we will get a good resolution with Russian and Chinese support.”

Washington’s effort to renew the civilian nuclear deal with Russia is the latest attempt to “reset” U.S. relations with Russia, one of Obama’s foreign policy priorities.

The civilian nuclear deal was shelved almost two years ago over Russia’s war with Georgia, when relations between Washington and Moscow reached a post-Cold War low.

The agreement is not a treaty, but it must be submitted to Congress for a 90-day review, and lawmakers can vote to kill it before it becomes effective.

Some Republicans in Congress have expressed concern that Obama is going too far in Russia’s direction before getting Moscow to sign on to a tough sanctions resolution on Iran.

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