Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 16 that Iran has shown "great flexibility" in talks with world powers on a potential deal that would limit its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.
In a televised question-and-answer session, Putin linked his decision to lift a ban on supplying Iran with surface-to-air S-300 missiles with what he said was Tehran's demonstrated desire to resolve a yearslong dispute over its nuclear program, which Western nations fear is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
Israel and the United States have criticized Putin for lifting the ban, which Russia imposed in 2010 after supporting UN sanctions that restricted weapons trade with Tehran.
Putin said on April 16 that S-300 missiles are not prohibited by those sanctions.
"And now with the progress of the Iranian nuclear track -- and that is obviously positive -- we do not see any reason to continue to keep the ban," he said.
Putin said the weapons are purely defensive and do not pose a threat to Israel.
He said "given regional circumstances, especially the events in Yemen, the delivery of such weapons is a factor of deterrence."
Shi’ite-led Iran has been accused of supporting the Shi’ite Huthi rebels in Yemen who are battling forces that are loyal to Yemen’s exiled Sunni president.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of 10 Sunni Arab states that are fighting against the Huthi rebels in a crisis that has exacerbated regional tensions and raised the prospects of a possible conflict between Iran and its Sunni neighbors.
Russian news agencies quoted Iran's defense minister as saying Moscow and Tehran are in talks about the timing of S-300 deliveries.
Putin said Russia will continue to work "as one" with its partners in the United Nations over Iran and Tehran’s nuclear program.
Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog said on April 16 that important talks it has been having with Iranian nuclear officials appear to have failed to produce any breakthrough on a stalled investigation into Tehran’s alleged past efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said a day after a meeting in Tehran that the two sides would “continue this dialogue and agreed to meet again in the near future.”
It said only that there had been a “constructive exchange” at the April 15 talks in Tehran about the need for Iran to answer questions that still remain about two suspect areas of nuclear activities.
Those questions were meant to have been answered by an agreed deadline of August 2014.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, told Iranian state-run media that Tehran and the IAEA would “wind up" the discussions about the two issues at the next meeting.
He did not give a date for the next round of talks.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, the European Union announced on April 16 that six world powers and Iran will hold a fresh round of nuclear talks in Vienna on April 22-23.
An EU statement said the talks would build on the political framework accord that was reached on Tehran's contested nuclear program.
It said negotiators “will continue work towards a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear issue based on the key understandings reached in Switzerland on April 2."
The talks will take place at political director level, involving Helga Schmid of the EU's external affairs arm, and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.
They would then be joined by officials from the five UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.
The EU statement said: "In parallel, experts will continue the work on the technical details necessary to finalize the political work.”
With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, and ISNA