Iran 'has new surface-to-air-missiles'

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Iran has obtained four S-300 surface-to-air missiles despite Russia's refusal to deliver them to Tehran under a valid contract, a semi-official Iranian news agency claimed today.

The Fars news agency, which has ties to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, Iran's most powerful military force, said Iran received two missiles from Belarus and two others from another unspecified source.

Russia signed a contract in 2007 to sell S-300 missiles to Iran, a move that would have substantially boosted the country's defence capacities. Israel fears that supplying S-300s to Iran would change the military balance in the Middle East.

The S-300 anti-aircraft missile defence 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.

Russia said in June that the new UN Security Council sanctions against Iran prevent Russia from delivering the missiles but Tehran insisted that Moscow is under an obligation to carry out the contract.

The agency said Iran's possession of the missiles was revealed for the first time last year by Al-Menar TV, which is affiliated the Iranian-backed Islamic militant Hezbollah group in Lebanon. Fars said Iranian government officials never denied the report. It added that Iran may try to start building the missiles itself.

Russia is in a difficult position in the international stand-off with Iran, in part because it does not want to jeopardise decades of political and trade ties with the Islamic republic. Still, Moscow has recently shown increasing frustration with Iran, and last month backed the new sanctions.

Tehran insists its nuclear work is only for generating power and other peaceful uses. The US and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop atomic weapons.

Moscow has delivered other anti-aircraft systems to Tehran, such as the Tor-M1, which can hit aerial targets at up to 20,000 feet.