The U.S. is ready to step in to prevent Russia from selling advanced fighter jets to Iran.
In a statement issued Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told The Washington Free Beacon that Washington is opposed to Moscow selling advanced Sukhoi Su-30SM warplanes to Tehran. The U.S. claims such a sale would violate the United Nations Security Council Resolution governing last year’s nuclear agreement between Iran and various Western powers.
“In terms of the specific reports about the proposed sale of the Sukhoi Su-30SM multi-role fighter jets, for example, we would almost certainly veto such a sale, as provision of such equipment to Iran would further exacerbate existing tensions in the region,” Toner told the Free Beacon.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 “prohibits the sale to Iran of specified categories of conventional arms as defined for the purposes of the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, without approval in advance on a case-by-case basis by the U.N. Security Council,” he added.
That “includes the Su-30SM fighter,” according to Toner.
The warplane, which was part of Moscow’s arsenal in its aggressive air campaign in Syria, is comparable to the American F-15E Strike Eagle fighter-bomber.
Russia’s uptick in arms sales to Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal, and to other countries including China, has caused serious consternation in Washington. The Obama administration views the moves as part of President Vladimir Putin’s scheme to make Russia a superpower again, as well as a way to fill the Kremlin’s coffers after years of international economic sanctions and recent low oil prices.
For now, it seems, the State Department is not taking issue with Russia’s separate deal with Iran for the S-300 air defense missile system. The countries signed an $800 million contract in 2007 for the supply of five air-to-ground missile systems, but the transaction was frozen in 2010 due to U.N. sanctions.
Putin approved delivery of the air defense missile system in April 2015. The sale is permitted under existing U.N. resolutions because it is considered defensive, according to the State Department.
As for the fighter jets, since the U.N. resolution pertaining to the deal does include prohibitions on arms sales to and from Iran, the U.S. would likely have to call for a vote in the Security Council to specifically block the transaction.
Such diplomatic maneuvering would do nothing to improve the frosty relationship that has existed between Washington and Moscow ever since the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula in early 2014.
It’s also unclear if a Security Council vote would go Washington’s way. Other countries that were part of the nuclear agreement negotiations -- like China, already a buyer of Russian military hardware -- are eager to do more business with Iran, which wants to boost its military capability after decades of sanctions. Beijing might side with Russia in order to facilitate arms deals of its own in the future.