TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has successfully tested its own version of a missile system that Russia declined to supply amid concerns Tehran might be seeking nuclear weapons, a military official was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Russia infuriated Iran in September when it canceled the S-300 missile order after heavy lobbying from the United States and Israel, which said the system could be used to help Iran shield its nuclear facilities from possible future air strikes.
State-run Press TV quoted a commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as saying Tehran had adapted another Russian-made missile system to perform like the more sophisticated S-300.
“We have developed the system by upgrading systems like the S-200 and we have tested it successfully,” Brigadier General Mohammad Hassan Mansourian said, according to Press TV’s website.
Some Western analysts doubt Iran’s ability to replicate the S-300, a precision, mobile, long-range air defense system that can detect, track and destroy ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft.
However, some Western officials suspect Iran’s development of more sophisticated missiles could serve the goal of attaining a deliverable nuclear weapon.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev banned delivery of the S-300s in September, saying it would violate expanded U.N. sanctions over Iran’s refusal to curb a nuclear programme many countries fear is aimed at making a bomb, a charge it denies.
Medvedev was due to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later on Thursday at a summit of Caspian Sea states in Azerbaijan where the issue of reopening nuclear talks was likely to be raised.
Iran, which says it is seeking nuclear technology for solely peaceful ends, has agreed in principle to return to talks — on ice for more than a year — with Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany, possibly on December 5.
The venue and agenda of the talks has yet to be set.
Iran has said it is not willing to negotiate away its right to nuclear technology and, speaking at the summit, Ahmadinejad said Iran would not bend to threats or sanctions.
“If they want to achieve positive results they should stop thinking as aggressors,” he told a news conference. “They should change the old methods, otherwise the results will be the same. No embargoes can change the Iranian people.”
World powers say Iran’s right to nuclear technology for civilian ends is not an issue. They say the point of talks would be to get Iran to suspend enrichment in exchange for benefits including access to the means to develop nuclear energy without the proliferation risk of an enrichment programme.
Tehran’s refusal to suspend or restrain uranium enrichment — a process which can produce bomb material if done to a high level — led to a fourth round of U.N. sanctions in June and tougher bilateral measures after that.
The United States and Israel have said they do not rule out a pre-emptive strike on Iran if diplomacy fails.
Iran, is conducting what it calls its biggest ever air defences drill this week to test its ability to deter any such attack. Officials said on Thursday they had successfully tested a new missile system called Mesab which can detect and destroy medium- and low-flying aircraft.
Iran has conventional long-range missile systems including the Shahab 3 and the Sejil which could be used to hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Middle East region.
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; editing by Mark Heinrich