MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Iran’s drive to find a solution in talks over its disputed nuclear program had spurred his decision to renew a contract to deliver S-300 missile defense systems to Tehran.
Moscow’s move to provide the surface-to-air missile system to Tehran, which irked the West and drew protests from Israel, followed an initial deal under which Tehran would curb its nuclear activities in exchange for an end to economic sanctions.
“With the progress of the Iranian nuclear track — and that is obviously positive — we do not see any reason to continue to keep the ban (on the delivery of the S-300) unilaterally,” Putin told his annual marathon call-in show with Russians.
A final deal with six world powers is due in June but Moscow has moved quickly to try to secure contracts in Iran before international sanctions are lifted and has urged engaging Tehran more in attempts to solve regional crises.
Speaking in The Hague, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini referred to Russia’s actions as “complications” but said they would not derail progress toward a final accord.
“The agreement, the understanding that we reached a couple of weeks ago in Switzerland, is solid enough to allow us to continue the drafting of the final agreement,” she said.
In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had a “constructive exchange” with Iran this week but there was no sign of a breakthrough on aspects of its nuclear program that the IAEA says Tehran has failed to fully address.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog is investigating Iran’s nuclear program in parallel to the talks and it would play a major role in monitoring Iran’s compliance in a final deal.
At a security conference in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the preliminary deal should end Iran’s “vicious” international isolation.
Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan meanwhile said Russia and Iran were discussing when the S-300 system would be delivered.
Russia has been Iran’s key ally in the talks with world powers. But Putin also said Russia would still work “as one” with its partners over Iran, and that deliveries of the S-300 would work as a deterrent in the Middle East.
Moscow and Tehran hold similar views on many Middle Eastern conflicts, including those in Syria and Yemen.
Dehghan also played to Russia’s own concerns by offering to work with it, China and India to prevent NATO expanding and deploying an anti-missile shield in Europe.
Lavrov said those plans, described as protection against rogue states such as Iran but which Moscow suspects is aimed against itself, should now be altered.
“If plans for a global anti-missile shield continue to be implemented without any corrections, even given progress in talks over Iran’s nuclear program ... the real motives for building the shield in Europe become clear to all,” he said.
NATO said in a statement that the missile defense system was to protect European members against proliferation of ballistic missiles. “The Tehran framework agreement does not change that fact,” it added.
Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in The Hague and Shadia Nasralla in Vienna; Editing by Catherine Evans