During an October 1-5 visit to Russia, Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani signed a military cooperation agreement that will reportedly result in hundreds of millions of dollars of new arms deals between the two countries.
Shamkhani, who had postponed an earlier visit in order not to overlap his stay with one by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, visited Russian arms manufacturing plants, met with top Kremlin officials, and signed a framework agreement for future cooperation on military-technical issues.
Neither Russian nor Iranian government officials gave details of the October 2 framework document, but press reports and analysts from both countries said it paved the way for future Russian sales of fighter jets, tanks, missiles, and naval ships to Iran that could be worth $300 million annually.
Russia made an agreement with the United States in June 1995 not to sign new weapons deals with Iran and to complete delivery of all previously sold arms by the end of 1999, but Moscow told Washington in November 2000 that it no longer planned to abide by the agreement. The United States objected, but Russia began serious discussions about reviving arms sales to Tehran during a visit to Russia by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in March.
Although Russia claims it is ready and has a right to sell “defensive” arms to Iran, it has also hinted that future deals might not be guaranteed. During a September 19 interview with a German television station, Russian President Vladimir Putin volunteered, “If our Western partners can offer to compensate us for the possible losses if we stopped our activities in the sphere of military-technical cooperation, we can think about it.”
State Department officials had no comment on Putin’s remarks, and it is unclear whether the Russian president was floating a proposal or simply trying to deflect criticism of Russian policy.
If Russia follows through with arms shipments to Iran, it could face U.S. sanctions. U.S. law calls for sanctions on countries that provide “lethal military equipment” to states sponsoring terrorism and for countries that sell “destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons” to either Iran or Iraq. The United States considers Iran a sponsor of terrorism.