Russia is to supply Iran with new S-300 air defense systems, Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Wednesday, a sign of growing military cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.
"The S-300 air defense system will be delivered to Iran on the basis of a contract signed with Russia in the past," state television quoted Najjar as saying.
Najjar didn't say when or how many of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense systems would be shipped to Iran. The S-300s will reportedly be the first such shipment to the Persian country.
The S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system is capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 90 miles and at altitudes of about 90,000 feet. Russian military officials boast that its capabilities outstrip the U.S. Patriot missile system.
Earlier this year, Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1 to Iran under a US$700 million (euro540 million) contract signed in December 2005.
Najjar said S-300 missile was one of the most sophisticated weapons in the world, with a longer range than the Tor-M1 surface-to-air missiles.
"While Tor-M1 missiles can hit targets at low altitude, S-300 missile have an extraordinary performance against targets at high altitude," Najjar said.
Russian officials wouldn't comment on the Iranian statement, but the Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified source in the Russian military-industrial complex as saying that a contract for the missiles delivery had been signed several years ago and envisaged the delivery of several dozen S-300 missile systems.
The S-300 is much more powerful and versatile weapon than the Tor-M1 missile systems supplied earlier which were capable of hitting aerial targets flying at up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).
Rumors about the sale of S-300 missile systems to Iran have circulated for a long time, but Russian officials consistently denied it.
Military experts said that the S-300 missile systems could inflict a significant damage to the U.S. or Israeli forces if they were to attack Iran.
The announcement comes in the wake of talks in Tehran this week on ways to step up defense cooperation between teams led by Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, and Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, regarded as the father of Iran's missile program.
Military experts, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said Wednesday that the Russian team included experts who had installed Tor-M1 in Iran. Dmitriyev also discussed training of Iranian specialists to operate the system.
Dmitriyev told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency Wednesday that Russia will consider orders from Iran for arms. He didn't elaborate but said air defense and radar systems were priorities in Russian-Iranian defense discussions.
Iran has not denied reports in November that it seeks to order Russian Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft to bolster its air defenses. Russia has already provided Iran with military products such as Kilo-Class submarines, MIG and Sukhoi military planes and bombers in the past decades.
Iran-Russia ties stepped up after a landmark visit here by Russian President Vladimir in October, in the face of increasing U.S. threats against Iran over its controversial uranium enrichment program.