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Iran Says Russia Only Using Air Base For Refueling

  • RFE/RL

A still image shows a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber based in Iran dropping off bombs at an unknown location in Syria.

A still image shows a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber based in Iran dropping off bombs at an unknown location in Syria.

Officials in Iran have acknowledged that Russian warplanes are using an Iranian air base but only for refueling purposes and insist that no Russian troops are stationed on Iranian soil.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on August 17 that Russian warplanes are using the remote Shahid Nojeh air base, which is about 50 kilometers away from the city of Hamadan in northwestern Iran.

He said Iran's Supreme National Security Council had given permission for Russia to use the air base.

"There is no stationing of Russian forces in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Boroujerdi added.

Reports the past two days have said Russian aircraft were taking off from Iran's air base at Hamadan to make bombing raids on Islamist militant targets in Syria, making it unclear exactly which air bases Russia is utilizing.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said several Su-34 strike fighters left the Hamadan air field in northwestern Iran to strike targets in Syria’s Deir al-Zor Province on August 17, and that all aircraft had returned safely.

The ministry’s statement claimed “more than 150 militants, including foreign mercenaries, were killed.”

Reports from Syria say Russian or Syrian government air strikes on the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib had killed 17 people and wounded at least 30 others on August 17, the Civil Defense branch for the region reported, as did the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said dozens of civilians had been killed or wounded in the attacks.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the use of the military base in Iran for the air strikes in Syria and rejected allegations by the United States that it could be a violation of UN resolutions.

"In the case we're discussing there has been no supply, sale, or transfer of fighter jets to Iran," Lavrov said. "The Russian air force uses these fighter jets with Iran's approval in order to take part in the counterterrorism operation" in Syria.

The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said on August 17 that Russia does not have a permanent military base in Iran, but stressed that Iran has “good cooperation with Russia and we say that loud and clear.”

Larijani added that the Iranian Constitution bans any foreign forces from having a military base in the country.

Hossein Kanani Moghadam, a former commander in Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, told the AP that Russia's use of the Iranian air base "doesn't mean that Nojeh is a Russian air base. Iran just lets them land there and refuel their aircraft, and everything is under the control of Iranians there."

Many Iranians don't look favorably upon Russia due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and even for Moscow's invasion and occupation of Iran along with Britian during World War II to secure oil fields.

The Soviets refusal to leave Iran after the war -- even after the British had left -- resulted in soured relations.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and AP