IRAN AND RUSSIA READY TO INK NEW, MAJOR MILITARY PACT

By Safa Haeri, IPS Editor, with reports from Tehran and Moscow

PARIS 26 Aug (IPS) The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation are to ink a new, wide range military pact "in near future", according to a high ranking Russian official.

"Moscow is ready to sign a military pact with Iran in near future, aimed at determining bilateral arms trade framework", the English-language "Iran Daily" reported Saturday, quoting the Russian independent Intefax news agency.

Quoting Mr, Mikhail Dimitriov, the Russian Deputy Defence Minister and Head of Russiaís Foreign Weapon Trade Organisation, Interfax said the Russian government is now studying the implementation of the agreement, signed during the visit of the Iranian President Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami to Moscow last March.

Without disclosing any details of the new Iran-Russia "military pact", Mr. Dimitriov, however stated that Moscow will "never violate its international commitments on limiting sale of weapons to Islamic states".

Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani told the Majles (parliament) on 21 August that his ministry will push ahead with its plans to develop a "defensive" military force for the country to act as a "deterrent" to regional and international threats.              

He said the ministry was also seeking "to acquire arms with effective deterrent capabilities," upgrade the hardware in its aeronautics industries as well as produce military equipment with high range, precision and destruction.                               

But informed Russian and Iranian sources and experts said Iranís needs in modern arms concerns mostly at modernising its Air Force and Navy, the country being self-sufficient in land-based arms, including rockets and missiles.

Last month Iran successfully test-fired an armor-piercing anti-tank missile capable of destroying the most sophisticated armored equipment.                                                            

The Saeqeh-1
(lightning) missile enjoys a high infiltration capability and can destroy the most sophisticated armored equipment in the world.                                                        

In May this year Iran also successfully test-fired a domestically made solid-fueled missile. The surface-to-surface rocket can be guided to destroy targets with high accuracy.                               

The Fateh (Victorious) 110 was totally planned and produced by Iranian experts at its army headquarters and greatly boosts the country's military superiority and self-sufficiency.                 

The country successfully test-fired last year a version of its Shahab-3 missile with a range of 1,300 km (800miles), according to the IRNA.                

It was prior of Mr. Khatamiís visit that Moscow formally announced it has notified Washington of the unilateral discontinuation of the "Gore-Chernomyrdin Agreement", and starting full-fledged military-technical cooperation with the "outcast" Islamic Republic.

The United States' response was immediate. Assistant Secretary of State John Barker said that, in the event of new arms supplies to Iran, economic sanctions could be imposed on Moscow.

In response, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, the former Russian Defence Minister, levelled accusations at Washington, saying that the Americans themselves were supplying Iran with parts for military equipment, and censure of Russia was for this reason baseless.

On the basis of the five years agreement concluded secretly in 1995 between the former US vice President Al Gore and the then Russian Prime Minister, Moscow had pledged not to sell any sophisticated arms, particularly missile and nuclear technology to neighbouring Iran.

During Mr. Khatamiís visit, the Iranian side confirmed its great interest in the large-scale replacement of its ageing weapons, mostly US-made and bought before the Islamic revolution of 1979, when Iran had almost free access to American military arsenal.

But as a result of the Iran-Iraq War and the embargo imposed on arms sales to Iran by both the United States and other Western major arms producers, the Iranian ayatollahs had no other choice but to turn to Soviet bloc arms, buying mostly outdated North Korean, Chinese and Soviet-made weapons.

The first major arms purchase from the then Soviet Union, worth between seven to ten billions US Dollars was signed by Iranís former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

The essence of the new agreement discussed last February between Iranís Defence Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani with his (then) Russian counterpart, Marshal Igor Sergeyev is that Russia undertakes to honour its commitments, assumed earlier, to modernize obsolete equipment and provide Iran with new arms systems.

Russian and Iranian military experts estimated at about seven billions US dollars Tehranís needs of modern arms and parts purchase in the next five years, coming essentially from Russian arms factories.

Speaking after a meeting with his Iranian guest at the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin told reporters that "for both political and economic reasons, his government was interested in [military] cooperation with Iran".

Among the weapons Iran is interested on buying from Russia are the S-300PMU-1 and S-300PMU-2 Favorit missile systems needed for protection of the 1000 Megawatt nuclear powered electricity plant Russia is building for Iran in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, and other strategic facilities drew the particular attention of the Iranian side here, according to "Izvestiya" of Saturday.

Both Washington and Tel-Aviv strongly protest to Russia's export of nuclear and missile technologies to Iran, also interested in the Buk-M1 and Tor-M1 SAM batteries.

In addition, modernization of the MiG-29 and Su-27 aircrafts and the delivery of missile, landing and patrol craft are at issue, the paper said, adding that a contract worth 100m dollars for the delivery of 550 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles has already been prepared for signing.

Moscow has also sold Iran three Kilo class, Diesel powered submarines, making Iran the first nation in the strategic, oil-rich region of the Persian Gulf possessing such weapon.

Asked what impact the new Iran-Russia military cooperation would have on Moscow-Washington relations, Mr. Shahbeddin Farrokhyar, an expert on Iran-Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, or the former republics of the collapsed Soviet Union) said "If in the past America could use economic, finance and investment as a weapon to blackmail Russia and stop arms sale to Tehran, now, there is nothing it could do preventing Russia to honour its commitments".

"There was a time that Washington could impose its will on its major European partners and Japan. At that time, Iran was a pariah country, completely isolated in the world. But today, the situation has changed, Iran emerging as an acceptable partner by many Western nations, ready to invest in that country, on a limited scale though", he told a BBC Persian and Central Asia serviceís correspondent.

"But the most serious troubles await the United States, perhaps, should Iran purchase two of the most modern Russian missile systems. These are the Yakhont antis hip supersonic cruise missile and the Iskander-E air defence missile system, as their appearance in Iran would mean that Moscow had thrown down the gauntlet to Washington and Tel Aviv", Izvestia pointed out.

The point is that both systems are strategic in nature for the Middle East. If Iran had only one of them, this would signify that that country could reliably block the passage of tankers and warships through the Strait of Hormuz, essentially acquiring a "right of veto" on exports of the lion's share of Middle Eastern oil.

"The decision on the delivery of these weapons is so serious a matter that Russia prefers not to speak about the problem in vain, confining itself to transparent hints addressed to the American negotiators at the bilateral consultations on the discussion of amendments to the 1972 ABM Treaty", Izvestia observed.

However, the Russians insist that the weapons they intend to sell Iran are not "offensive" but "defensive in nature".

On March 14, after meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, Sergei Ivanov, the chief of the Presidential Security Council, told reporters: "Itís all defensive - personnel carriers, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles - which are very legitimate and which are not offensive in natureÖ"

"The point is that no major arms producer, including Russia, never transfer to others, being their best clients, their latest arms technologies", Mr. Farrokhyar noted. ENDS IRAN RUSSIA ARMS DEAL 26801