Iran's official news agency IRNA, quoting a senior Iranian MP, reported on Sunday that Russia had started supplying components for S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. The United States, also citing intelligence reports, demanded an explanation from Russia.
"I am very surprised by the fuss this story has caused recently. I think this is due to a lack of interesting international news in the run-up to the holidays that many of our Western neighbors are celebrating. This causes an influx of interest in information, which has nothing to do with anything that is going on or will happen," Sergei Ryabkov told a news conference in Moscow.
He said military and technical cooperation that Russia is developing with Iran was transparent, and complied fully with international and Russian laws.
The statement echoes a similar denial by the Russian federal service for military cooperation. "Reports on deliveries of S-300 systems are untrue," the service said on Monday.
Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission on national security and foreign policy told IRNA last week that Iran and Russia had held negotiations for several years on the purchase of S-300 systems and had finalized the deal. He said the Islamic Republic would deploy the surface-to-air missile systems to strengthen national defense on border areas.
Iran's Foreign Ministry has neither denied nor confirmed the report.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tel Aviv, worried by occasional anti-Israeli rhetoric from Iran, had received assurances from Russia that it had not started S-300 deliveries to Tehran.
The U.S. and Israel, which have consistently refused to rule out the possibility of military action against Iran, were earlier alarmed by media reports, which started circulating as early as 2005, on the possible delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, as these systems could greatly improve Iranian defenses against any air strike targeted at strategically important sites, including nuclear facilities.
The advanced version of the S-300 missile system, called S-300PMU1 (SA-20 Gargoyle), has a range of over 150 kilometers (over 100 miles) and can intercept ballistic missiles and aircraft at low and high altitudes, making the system an effective tool for warding off possible air strikes.
Iran recently took delivery of 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700-million contract signed in late 2005. Russia has also trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders.
The Islamic Republic has conducted several high-profile war games this year, including a three-day series of Air Force and missile defense exercises on September 15-18, while promising swift retaliation in the event of any act of aggression against the country.
Iran is currently under three sets of relatively mild UN Security Council sanctions for defying demands to halt uranium enrichment, which it says it needs purely for electricity generation despite Western accusations that the program is geared toward weapon production.