Russia's defense minister said Tuesday that Moscow has sent air defense missiles to Iran, the first high-level confirmation that their delivery took place despite U.S. complaints.
Sergei Ivanov did not specify how many missile systems had been delivered, but a ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject said not all the systems contracted for had been delivered.
"We have delivered short-range Tor-M1 missiles to Iran in accordance with the contract," Ivanov told reporters.
Ivanov's comments were the first official confirmation of the sale; previous reports had cited unnamed officials reporting the sale.
Ministry officials have previously said Moscow would supply 29 of the sophisticated missile systems to Iran under a US$700 million (Ђ540 million) contract signed in December 2005, according to Russian media reports
"If the Iranian leadership has a desire to purchase more defensive weapons, we would do that," Ivanov said, without elaborating.
The United States called on all countries last year to stop all arms exports to Iran, as well as ending all nuclear cooperation with it to put pressure on Tehran to halt uranium enrichment activities. Israel, too, has severely criticized arms deals with Iran.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the United States and its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop weapons.
The U.N. Security Council, where Russia is a veto-wielding permanent member, is currently stalemated on the severity of sanctions that should be imposed on Iran for defying its demand to cease uranium enrichment.
Russian officials say that the missiles are purely defensive weapons with a limited range and argue that the Tor-M1 deal, involving conventional weapons, does not violate any international agreements.
"We are developing the military-technical cooperation with Iran based on the international law," he said.
The Tor-M1 system can identify up to 48 targets and fire at two targets simultaneously at a height of up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).
Russian media have reported previously that Moscow had conducted talks on selling even more powerful long-range S-300 air defense missiles, but Russian officials have denied that, reports AP.
Moscow already has a lucrative, US$1 billion (Ђ770 million) contract to build Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran's first. The plant is nearly complete.
Russia strongly supports Iran's right to nuclear energy but has joined the United States and Europe in demanding it halt enrichment to ease concerns.
The Russian missile cruiser Varyag, which is currently staying in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, blocked the US Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the Adriatic Sea