Iran minister seeks missiles on Russia trip: report

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Iran’s defense minister will seek to convince Russia on Tuesday to deliver air defense systems which could help repel possible Israel and U.S. air strikes, Russian media reported.

Iran has long been interested in buying Russian S-300 air defense systems from Russia but Israel has sought to convince Moscow not to deliver the systems.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar met Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in Moscow on Tuesday.

“I hope this visit will lead to the further development of relations between our two countries in all areas, including in the sphere of military cooperation,” Najjar was quoted as saying by the Iranian embassy in Moscow.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said Najjar would seek to get Russia to deliver the systems during his visit, though the paper said Moscow was extremely wary of selling the systems to Tehran.

Russia has repeatedly denied it intends to sell Iran the S-300 systems.

Kommersant said an $800 million contract for five S-300 systems had already been signed between Iran and Russia, but the paper cited a source in the Russian weapons industry saying that Moscow had not yet made a decision on whether to deliver them.

An Iranian lawmaker said last year that deliveries had already begun and some Russian media have reported that Russia is fulfilling an S-300 contract with Iran.

Iran, which the West fears is trying to build a nuclear bomb, is emerging as an issue where the United States has signaled it could work more closely with Russia and thus ease the stormy relations with Moscow.

A senior U.S. administration official told Reuters this month that if Russia agreed to help dissuade Iran from seeking nuclear weapons then Washington could slow development of a missile defense system in Europe.

The United States, its European allies and Israel say Iran is seeking to build nuclear arms under the cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Iran denies the charge.

The new administration of Barack Obama has said the United States is prepared to talk to Iran, a step that has dampened speculation about pre-emptive strikes against Iran.

Russia says it has seen no evidence that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb and has warned that pushing Tehran into a corner would be counterproductive.

Russia is building Iran’s first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr, and says it will start up the reactor at the plant this year.

In October, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied media speculation that Moscow would sell the medium-range S-300 system, saying it had no intention of selling weapons to “troubled regions.”

The truck-mounted S-300PMU1, known in the West as the SA-20, can shoot down cruise missiles and aircraft. It can fire at targets up to 150 km (90 miles) away and can travel at more than 2 km per second, according to Russian media.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Alison Williams