TEHRAN Russia has agreed to sell an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran, Iran's defense minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday, a report likely to irritate the United States.
S-300 missiles are longer-ranging than the TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles which Russia, in a deal criticized by the West, earlier this year said it had delivered to the Islamic Republic under a $1 billion contract.
Iran is under U.N. sanctions over its refusal to halt sensitive atomic work that Western powers suspect it wants to master so that it can build nuclear bombs, but they do not ban conventional weapons sales to the country.
"The S-300 system, under a contract signed in the past with Russia, will be delivered to Iran," Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told Fars News Agency, without giving details.
"The timing of the delivery ... will be announced later," he said. The ISNA news agency carried a similar report.
The United States and Israel -- Tehran's arch foes -- have said Iran could use the TOR-M1 system to attack its neighbors. Russia says it is a short-range system and purely defensive.
Najjar said last month Iran would never launch an attack against another country but warned that anybody trying to invade Iran would "face a crushing response".
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian arms firms have aggressively pushed sales abroad as the Kremlin seeks to reassert its role as a global power in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
Russia's drive to boost arms exports have raised tensions with the United States, which last year imposed sanctions on Russia's state arms trader Rosoboronexport for cooperating with Iran, a move Moscow has called illegal.
The United States is pushing for a third set of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its disputed atomic activities, even though a U.S. intelligence report this month said Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
Iran says it has never had plans to build nuclear bombs, insisting its program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas.
Russia said on December 17 it had delivered the first shipment of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr power plant in southern Iran, a step Moscow and Washington said should persuade Tehran to shut down its own controversial uranium enrichment program, which can have both civilian and military uses.
(Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian, Writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Richard Meares)