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Iran sanctions cover air defence missile: Kremlin

TASHKENT (Reuters) - The delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles under a Russian contract with Iran would violate new U.N. sanctions, a Kremlin source said on Friday, in a sign of support for the Western stance on Iran.

The statement marked a shift in tone for Russia, which had repeatedly reserved the right to deliver the missile systems to Iran despite vehement opposition from the United States and Israel.

“S-300 supplies to Iran fall under U.N. sanctions,” the Kremlin source said on condition of anonymity.

The comment came after two days of conflicting signals about how the sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday with Moscow’s support would affect the contract.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Thursday that the S-300, which can shoot down planes and missiles, is not on a list of weapons banned by the measures.

But Security Council diplomats said the resolution’s call for “vigilance and restraint” on arms sales to Iran meant Moscow was being strongly discouraged from delivering the missiles.

Another Kremlin official suggested Russia would not scrap the contract but would put it on hold as long as the sanctions are in place.

“The deal has not been revoked, but it falls under the sanctions,” the official said.

The Kremlin’s move toward support for new sanctions against Iran had been accompanied by repeated assurances from Russian officials that the measures would not affect the S-300 deal.

Moscow has used the contract, first disclosed by Iran in late 2007, as a bargaining chip in diplomacy with Tehran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme, which Washington and others suspect is aimed at developing atomic weapons but Iran says is for peaceful energy purposes.

Russia has close ties with Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant. The Kremlin has worked with China, another veto-wielding Security Council member, to water down successive sanctions against Tehran.

But Moscow has been dismayed by Iran’s secrecy over its uranium enrichment programme and its refusal to accept Russian-backed proposals meant to ease fears it is seeking a bomb.

Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Noah Barkin