Saudis bargain with Russia over Iran missile deal

Saudi Arabia’s proposal to buy an advanced missile system S-400 from Russia is aimed at aborting Moscow’s similar deal with Iran, say Gulf analysts and diplomats, AFP news agency reports.

The parties involved claim Moscow and Riyadh are close to sealing a deal on a multibillion-dollar weapons deal.

According to experts and diplomats, Saudi officials are concerned that Western pressure has failed to prevent Iran's development of nuclear know-how as Riyadh doesn’t believe that Tehran’s nuke program is peaceful.

The S-400 is the newest version of the S-300 long-range surface to air missile system capable of detecting and simultaneously engaging six targets from a range of 400 kilometers to 3,500 kilometers at a speed of 4.5 kilometers per second.

The S-400 missile defense system could be a part of a much larger contract with Russia, which would include helicopters, tanks, and other military equipment.

The Financial Times newspaper reported on Wednesday that, as part of the deal, Saudi Arabia demanded guarantees from Russia that it won’t sell S-300 systems to Iran.

“The Saudis would rather this weapon system were not sold to Iran or [another possible buyer] Syria,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, told AFP.

Tehran wanted to purchase S-300 defense systems from Moscow and the deal was signed in 2005, but the equipment has not yet been delivered to Iran.

Heavy pressure from the West and Israel, and possibly a Saudi contract, have persuaded Moscow to put on hold that sale to Tehran, diplomats in the Gulf said on the condition of anonymity to AFP.

“The pressure from the US is a stick and the huge weapons deal prepared by the Saudis is a carrot,” Director of Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Ruslan Pukhov told Interfax news agency. “We all know Saudi Arabia buys weapons as a ‘bribe’ to the world’s great powers in exchange for support,” he added.

Pukhov believes the abortion of the Iranian deal would hurt Russia’s image in international weapons trade.