Mark N. Katz, Special to Addis Standard
Putin’s lifting of the Russian ban on transferring S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran raises important questions about Moscow’s expectations and even motivations concerning the achievement of a nuclear accord between Tehran and the P5 +1 (America, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia).
In 2007, Moscow and Tehran signed a contract whereby Iran would buy these air defense missiles from Russia. Israel and the U.S. in particular objected to this sale for fear that Iranian possession of these missiles would enable Tehran to protect any nuclear weapons and delivery systems that it might be building against an Israeli or even an American attack. Whether rightly or wrongly, they feared that if Iranian leaders thought that Russian air defense missiles could enable them to protect a nuclear weapons program (which Tehran vehemently denied it had), then Tehran would be more likely to embark on one. Those in the West hoping to achieve a nuclear accord with Iran argued—just as the U.S. did when it was negotiating with Moscow in the initial strategic arms control negotiations in the early 1970’s—that Tehran’s foregoing defensive weapons that could protect a nuclear program would boost confidence in the West that Iran was serious about reaching a verifiable accord that would ensure it would not try to break out of such an agreement.