Iran agrees to ship missiles, more drones to Russia

  • Iran wants to sell more drones and missiles to Russia
  • West heavily criticizes Iran for drones
  • Tehran under pressure from mass protests

Oct 18 (Reuters) – Iran has promised to supply Russia with surface-to-surface missiles in addition to more drones, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters, a move likely to infuriate the United States and other Western powers will do.

A deal was reached on Oct. 6 when Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, two senior officials from Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards and an official from the Supreme National Security Council visited Moscow for talks with Russia over the arms supply.

“The Russians had asked for more drones and these Iranian ballistic missiles with improved accuracy, specifically the Fateh and Zolfaghar family of missiles,” said one of the Iranian diplomats briefed on the trip.

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A Western official briefed on the matter confirmed this, saying there was an agreement between Iran and Russia to supply short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, including the Zolfaghar.

One of the drones that Iran has agreed to supply is the Shahed-136, a delta-winged weapon used as a “kamikaze” air-to-ground attack aircraft. It carries a small warhead that detonates on impact.

Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar are Iranian short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets at ranges between 300 km and 700 km (186 and 435 miles).

The Iranian diplomat dismissed claims by Western officials that such transfers violate a 2015 UN Security Council resolution.

“Where they are used is not up to the seller. We are not taking sides in the Ukraine crisis like the West. We want to end the crisis through diplomatic channels,” said the diplomat.

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Ukraine has reported a spate of Russian attacks using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones in recent weeks. Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday dismissed as unfounded reports of Russia supplying drones and other weapons for use in Ukraine, while the Kremlin on Tuesday denied that its forces had used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.

When asked if Russia had used Iranian drones in its campaign in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had no information about their use.

“Russian equipment with Russian nomenclature is used,” he said. “Any further questions should be directed to the Department of Defense.”

The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The appearance of Iranian missiles in addition to drones in Moscow’s arsenal in the war with Ukraine would increase tensions between Iran and the United States and other Western powers.

SHIPPING ‘SOON, VERY SOON’

The US State Department noted that Iranian drones were used in a morning rush hour attack on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Monday, a US official said. White House spokeswoman Karinne Jean-Pierre also accused Tehran of lying when it said Iranian drones were not being used by Russia in Ukraine.

A European diplomat said it was his country’s assessment that amid sanctions on its industrial sector, Russia is finding it harder to manufacture weapons for itself and is therefore turning to imports from partners like Iran and North Korea.

“Drones and missiles are a logical next step,” said the European diplomat.

When asked about Iran’s sales of surface-to-surface missiles to Russia, a senior US military official said, “I can’t say at this point whether that’s correct at this point or not.”

Iran’s rulers, reeling under Western economic sanctions, are keen to strengthen strategic ties with Russia against a nascent US-backed Arab-Israeli bloc in the Gulf that is pushing the balance of power in the Middle East further away from the Islamic Republic could move.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Commander-in-Chief Hossein Salami said last month some of the “great powers of the world” are ready to buy military and defense equipment from Iran.

Rahim Safavi, a military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, was reported by state media on Tuesday as saying that 22 countries want to buy Iranian drones.

Iran’s leaders are also under pressure from nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death in custody of a 22-year-old woman who was detained for “inappropriate dress”.

Several European Union states on Monday called for sanctions on Iran over its supply of drones to Russia, as the bloc agreed separate sanctions over Tehran’s crackdown on unrest.

“They (Russians) wanted to buy hundreds of our missiles, even intermediate-range missiles, but we told them that we could soon supply a few hundred of their required short-range surface-to-surface missiles, Zolfaghar and Fateh 110,” said one of the security officials.

“I can’t tell you the exact time, but soon, very soon, these will be sent out in two to three shipments.”

An Eastern European official tracking Russia’s arms activities said it was their understanding that this arms deal was taking place, although he had no concrete evidence to back it up. The official said that the Iranian and Russian leaders made a decision to proceed with the transfer.

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Moscow has specifically requested Fateh 110 and Zolfaghar short-range surface-to-surface missiles, and delivery will be made in a maximum of 10 days, another Iranian diplomat said.

DRONE ATTACKS

The stakes are high for Iran, which has been negotiating with Western states to revive a 2015 deal that would ease sanctions on Tehran.

Talks have stalled, and disputes between Tehran and western powers over arms sales to Russia or Iran’s crackdown on the unrest could weaken efforts to reach an agreement.

The United States agrees with assessments by Britain and France that Iran by supplying drones to Russia would violate a UN Security Council resolution approving the 2015 deal, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said. on Monday.

The Western official, who declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the matter, said missile transfers, like the drones, would also violate UN Resolution 2231.

Several senior Iranian officials are outraged by “unjust” planned sanctions against Iran over its arms sales to Russia, the second diplomat said.

In September, Tehran rejected a request from President Vladimir Putin for the delivery of Iran’s long-range Arash 2 attack drones, three Iranian officials told Reuters.

When asked the reason for the refusal, one of the officials cited several issues, including “some technical issues.”

“Even the commanders of the (Revolutionary) Guards were worried that if Russia uses this Arash-2 drone in Ukraine, the Americans could have access to our technology.”

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Writing by Michael Georgy, editing by William Maclean

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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