News and Information

Syrian president bound for Moscow
January 24, 2005

Assad: "Weapons purchased by Syria are of a defensive nature"

The Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has denied speculation that Damascus is seeking to buy Russian missiles, as he embarks on a three-day visit to Moscow.

"The Russian defence minister [Sergey Ivanov] said that there was no deal and thus gave a clear answer," Mr Assad told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency.

He said Iraq, Iran tensions, Middle East peace efforts and international terrorism would dominate the talks.

Israel has voiced concern about a possible Russian-Syrian missile deal.

Earlier this month, the Russian government insisted that it was not planning to sell powerful new missiles to Syria.

Israeli security fears

Israel has accused Syria of constantly supplying weapons to the militant Lebanese Shia Muslim group Hezbollah, which has attacked Israel in the past.

Iskander: If fired from Syria it could hit many targets in Israel

But a senior Israeli official quoted by the Associated Press on Monday said "the Russians are apparently having second thoughts about the missile sale, mainly because of American pressure".

The US State Department has warned that Russia could face sanctions if any sale of military equipment to Syria goes ahead.

Speculation about a possible deal has focused on Russia's SS-26 Iskander tactical missiles, similar to the Scuds once used by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and the portable, shoulder-launched Igla anti-aircraft missiles.

Economic ties

Mr Assad told Itar-Tass that "Russia bears great responsibility for the state of affairs in the world, including the Middle East".

Russia "should play a positive role and promote stabilisation," he said.

He also called for a boost to Syrian economic co-operation with Russia.

"Unfortunately, the quality of relations in this sphere today is lagging behind political contacts," he said.


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