Russia denies Syrian missiles deal

Russia has denied it has any plans to sell missiles to Syria amid media reports and the US cautioning Moscow that such a move could invite sanctions.

    Syrian President Al-Asad is due to visit Moscow later this month

    US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Wednesday said Washington could consider sanctions against Russia if the reported sale of the sophisticated SS-26 Iskander missiles with ability to hit any target in Israel goes through.

    "The US policy on this is very clear," Boucher said. "We are against the sale of weaponry to Syria, against the sale of lethal military equipment to Syria, which is a state sponsor of terrorism."

    He said the US was aware of reports a deal was brewing and "we think those kinds of sales are not appropriate... The Russians know about this policy. They know about our views."

    But Russia denied it had any such plans.

    Potential sale

    US Secretary of State Colin Powell also raised the reported sale in talks during the day with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov.

    Powell raised the potential sale with Ivanov in the context of a broader discussion of proliferation, a US official said, adding: "The secretary reiterated longstanding US policy."

    The Russian media carried reports of the planned sale as Syrian President Bashar al-Asad prepares to visit Russia later this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

    Ivanov has denied missile talks
    with Damascus are under way

    However, Ivanov categorically denied any plans for such a sale.

    "We have no talks with Syria about such missiles," he said. "There are no negotiations under way with Syria."

    Israel accuses Syria of backing Hizb Allah and Palestinian resistance fighters. Israel's Channel Two television said Russia planned to sell Syria arms including an unspecified number of SA-18 shoulder-fired missiles, which could threaten Israeli aircraft over Syria and southern Lebanon. 

    On vacation

    The Russian daily Kommersant said the sale included Iskander-E ground-to-ground missiles, which would bring most of Israel into Syria's range.

    According to Kommersant, Israel recalled its ambassador from Moscow in protest. But a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said the ambassador had not been recalled and was in Israel on vacation. 

    Syria has not been seen by military analysts as a major strategic threat to Israel since the collapse of its main patron, the Soviet Union.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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