Russia says no new plan to sell air defense systems to Syria

WARSAW/MOSCOW Fri May 10, 2013 2:12pm EDT

WARSAW/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's foreign minister said on Friday Moscow had no new plans to sell an advanced air defense system to Syria, but left open the possibility it could deliver such systems under an existing contract.

The Wall Street Journal this week reported that Israel had informed the United States a Russian deal was imminent to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

That would significantly boost Syria's ability to stave off outside intervention in its civil war, such as the air strikes launched by Israel this month.

Asked by a journalist in the Polish capital about the reports of a missile deal, Sergei Lavrov said: "Russia is not planning to sell. Russia already sold them a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries, in line with the agreed contracts, of equipment which is anti-aircraft technology."

The question referred to S-300 systems, but in his reply the minister did not specify whether the items already being delivered were S-300 complexes or another system.

Lavrov, in Warsaw for a meeting on regional cooperation with his German and Polish counterparts, said the deliveries were in line with international law and for self-defense only.

"It is designed so that Syria, as the importer, should have the ability to protect itself from air strikes, something that is not an entirely fantastical scenario," he told a news conference after the meeting.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, standing alongside Lavrov, said there had been "intensive" discussions at his meeting with the Russian minister and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski about arms shipments to Syria.

"It is also a controversial subject between us," Westerwelle said through an interpreter. "We think that all arms shipments need to stop, a political solution has to be given a chance.

"And because this is so difficult and important ... everything should be done in order to halt arms shipments to Syria," he added.

Russia is Syria's main arms supplier and has continued fulfilling defense contracts despite the civil war. Moscow, along with China, has blocked moves in the United Nations for international intervention to halt the bloodshed in Syria.

Russia and the United States agreed this week to seek new peace talks to end the conflict in Syria.

(Reporting by Jason Bush in Moscow and Piotr Pilat in Warsaw; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Roche)