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Israel To Press Russia On Arms Sales To Iran, Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

TEL AVIV (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will press Russia during a visit starting on October 6 not to sell advanced missiles and weapons technology to Iran and Syria.

Addressing his cabinet on the eve of the two-day trip, Olmert said he would discuss issues of "special, immediate concern" including the supply of weapons to "irresponsible elements."

Olmert, caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed following his resignation last month in a corruption scandal, meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on October 7 and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on October 6.

Israeli defense sources, revising earlier statements that a deal between Moscow and Tehran was imminent, said on October 5 that Iran had not received Russia's advanced S-300 antiaircraft system yet, though the countries were still discussing a purchase.

The S-300 would help Iran fend off any Israeli or U.S. air strike against its nuclear facilities. Analysts believe a purchase of the system by the Iranians could accelerate the countdown to military action designed to deny them the bomb.

Russia has denied intending to sell Iran the S-300, the best version of which can track 100 targets and fire on planes 120 kilometers away. The system is known in the West as the SA-20.

Asked whether Iran had bought the missiles, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi gave a vague response on October 6 in comments translated by Iran's English-language Press TV.

"Iran's defensive might is based on our indigenous capabilities and whatever action that helps with expanding and strengthening our military and defensive might, we'll look into that," Qashqavi said.

"We have good defense cooperation with the Russians. One example would be antiaircraft systems. We have had good cooperation and we continue to cooperate with them," he said.

Iran says its uranium-enrichment activities are aimed at generating electricity. Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has called Iran's nuclear program a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.

In his comments at October 6 cabinet meeting, Olmert said his first face-to-face talks with Medvedev since the Russian leader was elected in March would focus on the "security, military, diplomatic, and international agenda between us and Russia."

Israel is also concerned about reports Russia plans to supply advanced missiles to Syria. Russia has said any arms sales to Damascus would be solely for defensive purposes.