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Russian, Iranian Defense Ministers Meet in Moscow - 2001-10-02

Russian and Iranian defense ministers are meeting in Moscow Tuesday for talks on military cooperation and possible U.S. strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said the two men met to discuss increased military cooperation and possible U.S. strikes against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan.

Iran, a country that Washington has labeled a sponsor of terrorism, has condemned the attacks on New York and Washington but ruled out cooperating in any possible U.S. led military action. Before leaving for Moscow, Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani warned Tehran would confront any U.S. aircraft that violated its airspace in possible strikes in Afghanistan.

Moscow has expressed concerns over U.S. military activity in Central Asia, a region that it considers its strategic back yard. Even so Russia has said it is prepared to cooperate with the West in combating terrorism.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to help the United States in its campaign against those responsible for the terrorist attacks. He said he would step up arms supplies to opponents of the Taleban and would open Russian air space for the shipment of humanitarian aid.

Shortly before leaving Tehran, Mr. Shamkhani confirmed for the first time that Iran has provided arms to the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance and will continue to do so.

The two men are expected to sign agreements on new Russian arms sales to Iran, but there are no details on what sort of weapons might be sold. The Iranians are said to be in the market for air defense systems and jet fighters. In March, the Kremlin agreed to sell Iran an estimated $7 billion worth of what it said were defensive weapons over the next few years.

Mr. Shamkhani's visit was scheduled well before the September 11 terrorist attacks and was postponed when his arrival would have coincided with a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.