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US Opposes Russian Missile Sale to Syria

The United States Wednesday registered its opposition to a reported pending sale of advanced Russian surface-to-surface missiles to Syria. Such action could lead to U.S. sanctions against Russian exporters.

Syria has long had a large arsenal of Soviet-era Scud ground-to-ground missiles. But news reports from Russia say Moscow is ready to sell the Damascus government a vastly updated version of the Scud, the Iskander or SS-26 missile, that would be capable of pinpoint strikes against targets within a 300 kilometer range, which would include all Israeli territory.

There is no indication that such a deal has been consummated, and at a press briefing here, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher called reports about the prospective scale speculative. However, he made clear the United States opposes in principle all arms sales to Syria, because of that country's presence on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"We're seen reports of the sale. The U.S. policy on this is very clear. We're against the sale of weaponry to Syria, the sale of lethal military equipment to Syria, which is state sponsor of terrorism. We think those kinds of sales are not appropriate. The Russians know about this policy. They know about our views," he said.

Mr. Boucher said Russian entities involved in such a sale would be subject to U.S. sanctions under a law aimed at curbing the flow of arms to countries on the terrorism list.

The comments came as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was completing a round of high level talks with a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Spokesman Boucher said he did not know whether the issue of the reported Syrian missile deal came up in discussions with Mr. Ivanov, but said even if it didn't, Moscow is well-aware of the U.S. position on the issue.

News reports say senior Israeli officials have consulted with both the Russian and U.S. governments to express their concern about the prospective deal.

Moscow was a major arms supplier to Syria during the Cold War era, and its cash-strapped military industry is said to be keen to make the new sale to help keep development and production of the SS-26 missiles going.

U.S. sanctions would basically forbid a Russian missile exporting firm from doing business with the U.S. government or acquiring advanced American technology.