Iran–Russia S-300 Affair Takes a New Spin

Date: 08-30-2011 | Category: Articles, Middle East

Ariel Cohen and Michaela Bendikova

The Heritage Foundation

  Iran escalated its dispute with Russia recently. Tehran filed a lawsuit against the Russian Federation at the International Court of Arbitration as Russia refused to provide the Islamic Republic with the S-300 air defense system delivery and providing a new spin to the complicated Russian–Iranian relationship.   Tehran and Moscow signed an $800 million delivery contract in 2007 despite U.S. and Israeli protests. In June 2010, the United Nations Security Council passed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran due to its continuous violations of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.   While the S-300 system is not specifically mentioned in the U.N. register of conventional arms, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree three months after the sanctions were passed banning the S-300 system sale as well as delivery of other conventional weapons to Tehran’s theocratic regime. Russia even returned the Iranian down payment on the S-300.   The prevention of the S-300 transfer from Russia to Iran was one of the brighter moments of the international effort to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The S-300 air defense system would significantly complicate potential air strikes against Iranian nuclear sites if Israel—the U.S.’s most important ally in the Middle East—or the U.S. itself decide that Iran’s nuclear weapons program progressed enough to possess an existential threat to either nation.   Iran hopes that the court will rule in its favor and thereby provide the Russian Federation with legal grounds to fulfill its obligations under the original S-300 delivery contract. So far, Russian representatives expressed theirsurprise with Iran’s steps, stating that U.N. sanctions did not give them any other option but to cancel the sale of the system. While the halt of this sale is a good beginning, it will not be enough to address the broader issue of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons—something the Obama Administration has neglected recently due to the focus on Afghanistan, Libya, and domestic economic woes.   As The Heritage Foundation suggested, a multi-faceted strategy targeting Iran’s ailing energy sector would contribute to compelling Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program. More broadly, the primary task of the United States and its allies must be to dissuade Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons and work to advance liberty for the Iranian people by discrediting the radical regime.   Keeping pressure to deny Iran the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles or their equivalent is a necessary part of the strategy. Additionally, the U.S. should not shy away from articulating its priorities and values to its Russian partners—and have Russia halt its cooperation and arms sales to Iran.

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