Putin told the English language Jerusalem Post that Russia would never upset the Middle East's regional balance but said any sale of the controversial anti-aircraft missiles could be allowed for "defensive purposes."

"While we're talking about supplies of weapons to countries in the region, such a supply should be understood in the light of supporting defensive capacities, as in Syria," he said.

Israel and the United States have both expressed disquiet about a possible sale of the Russian-made SA-18 surface to air missiles.

Defensive purposes

"First of all, we understand and are committed to maintaining the balance of forces in the region. We understand our responsibilities. We have not taken a single step to violate that balance and we will follow that pattern in the future," said the Russian president.

"Second of all, we won't bring to the region weapons that can be used by terrorists or that can be transferred to terrorists without controls."

"We won't bring to the region weapons that can be used by terrorists"

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who met with Putin in Moscow this week, has said any missile system would be for defensive purposes.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke by phone with Putin last week when it was understood that he urged the Russian leader not to conclude any deal during Assad's visit.

Putin said the missile sale was still under discussion "with all participants (in)... the Middle East settlement, including frankly and openly with our Israeli partners."