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Earnings

Israel presses Russia on arms sales to Iran, Syria

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed concern on Monday about Russia’s plans for the sale of advanced weaponry and technology to both Syria and Iran, an Israeli official said.

In Moscow for a two day visit, Olmert asked Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to do ‘all he could’ to prevent weapons passing from Damascus to Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon, said an Israeli official who briefed reporters traveling with Olmert.

But the two made minimal progress toward an agreement on containing Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel sees as an existential threat.

The official said Olmert asked Lavrov to strengthen involvement in western efforts to prevent Iran achieving the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

But, said the official, the two agreed to continue dialogue and cooperation on the issue.

Olmert, caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed following his resignation last month in a corruption scandal, meets President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday.

Israeli defense sources, revising earlier statements that a deal between Moscow and Tehran was imminent, said on Sunday the two sides were still negotiating a possible Iranian purchase of Russia’s advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system.

The S-300 would help Iran fend off any Israeli or U.S. air strike against its nuclear facilities. Some analysts believe an Iranian purchase of the system could accelerate the countdown to an Israeli attack to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Russia has denied intending to sell Iran the S-300, the best version of which can track 100 targets and fire on planes 120 km (75 miles) away. The system is known in the West as the SA-20.

“Defense COOPERATION”

Hours before Olmert’s arrival, the Russian arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, said it had no information on any Russian plans to deliver the arms system to either Iran or Syria, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

Asked whether Iran had bought the missiles, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi gave a vague response in comments translated by Iran’s English-language Press TV.

“Iran’s defensive might is based on our indigenous capabilities, and whatever action helps with expanding and strengthening our military and defensive might, we’ll look into that,” Qashqavi said.

“We have good defense cooperation with the Russians. One example would be anti-aircraft systems. We have had good cooperation and we continue to cooperate with them,” he said.

Iran says its uranium enrichment activities are aimed at generating electricity. Israel, believed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has called Iran’s nuclear program a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.

Russia has said any arms sales to Damascus would be solely for defensive purposes.

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