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Behind the Deal: Was Iran Really 'Talked Into' Buying Russia's Sukhoi Jets?

© Flickr / SuperJet InternationalSukhoi Superjet 100
Sukhoi Superjet 100 - Sputnik International
Commenting on recent reports that Iran has expressed an interest in purchasing 12 Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) airliners, Russian political and military analysts suggested how Tehran was "talked into" the deal, what might be behind it and how it could proceed in the future.

Staff personnel training center for Sukhoi Superjet 100 - Sputnik International
Iran Interested in Buying 12 Russian SSJ100 Passenger Planes – Russian Official
On Wednesday, Russia's Minister of Energy and co-chair of the Russian-Iranian intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation, Alexander Novak, announced that Iran has expressed an interest in purchasing 12 Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 (SSJ100) airliners.

"Iran is interested in acquiring 12 Sukhoi Superjet 100 planes soon," he told Rossiya 24 broadcaster.

A source in the civil aviation [regulator] of the Islamic Republic of Iran familiar with the ongoing negotiations confirmed to Sputnik that one of the Iranian air carriers has expressed an intention to purchase or lease Russian airliners.

The deal should be clarified in its entirety when Russia's negotiators vist Iran, the source said, albeit without elaborating on the dates of the visit.

"Iran is waiting for the Russian delegation for talks with the representatives of Iran's civil aviation [regulators]. The possible purchase or lease of Russia's SSJ100 airplanes as well as Russia's technical servicing equipment and component parts and accessories is on the agenda. The deal should be clarified upon the results of the talks," the source said.

Meanwhile, Alexander Novak visited Iran to attend the inauguration ceremony of a 1,400-megawatt thermal power plant project, financed to the tune of €1.2 billion by Russia in the city of Sirik, southern Iran, Iran's leading daily Tehran Times reported on Wednesday.

Bandar Abbas, Iran - Sputnik International
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Russia's online newspaper Vzglyad reported that Russia has also offered to launch the joint production of Russia's twin-engine turboprop airliner the Ilyushin Il-114, which is designed for local routes.

According to the energy minister, Moscow is interested in setting up production facilities in Iran which will manufacture components for Russian airliners.

"Russian companies are now working with their Iranian partners on concrete suggestions and further decisions," the outlet quotes him as saying.

The newspaper, however reminded that last week, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the defense industry Dmitry Rogozin cancelled his trip to Iran due to some "technical issues."

According to the Russian media, Rogozin was set to visit Tehran last Monday (February 13) to hold talks on the expansion of technology and defense cooperation with Iran’s Vice-President for Science and Technology Sorena Sattari, and Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan.

He was also expected to discuss the prospects for bilateral cooperation, particularly in the field of aircraft construction, and the purchase of Russian aircraft by the Islamic Republic.

On Tuesday, February 14, the Russian Kommersant newspaper announced that Rogozin's trip has been cancelled due to what the Deputy Prime Minister described as "technical issues."

Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani (L) and Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri speak during a news conference in Baghdad December 24, 2014 - Sputnik International
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Vzglyad, however, said that the unofficial reason for the cancellation was that the Iranian side had made information regarding the upcoming visit of a high-ranking Russian official public, although the Russian side had asked for confidentiality.

"We are providing Iran with colossal support; however, they are purchasing equipment from those who humiliate them with sanctions," the newspaper quotes a high-ranking source in Moscow as saying.

The outlet therefore did not rule out that the so-called thaw in Iran's position towards Russian equipment was forced by the "cooling-down" of relations between Iran and Washington. It notes that new US president Trump has taken a tough stance on Tehran; not only regarding the nuclear deal but also regarding Iran's support for what the US views as terrorist groups.

Russian political analyst Semyon Bagdasarov, head of the Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies, has suggested that the above developments can be explained by "the real assessment by Iranians of the situation which is being set up in the Middle East" and by the "anti-Iranian remarks of Donald Trump."

"Tehran understands only too well that there is a tough fight coming in the Middle East between the US and Israel and a number of Persian Gulf states on the one hand, and Iran on the other hand. And Tehran is getting ready for it," the analyst told Vzglyad.

When it is becoming "too hot" he further elaborated, Iran starts talking about closer cooperation with Russia.  He noted that in 2015, after the Iranian nuclear deal, the West started easing anti-Iranian sanctions, and Tehran had used a different approach [towards Russia].

Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter bomber takes off from Hemeimeem Air Base in the Latakia province, Syria. - Sputnik International
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He said that the attitude was basically that "If we can get money and technology from you, it is good, but actually we are oriented more towards the West."

However, he further noted, the situation is changing once again, and life is forcing Tehran to re-orient itself again.

Meanwhile, Sergei Seregichev, an expert at the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, has provided another reason behind what he called "Iran's maneuvers."

"Iran is interested in setting up cooperation with Washington to a larger degree than with Moscow," he told Vzglyad.

"Russia does not pose a threat to Iran, just as Iran does not pose a threat to Russia. Meanwhile, the US poses a large threat to Tehran; more so, when lack of clarity is taken into account in the practical implementation of Donald Trump's "Iranian theses."

He further suggested that what is going on right now however is just "simple eastern bargaining."

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Commenting about possible purchases of Russia's Superjets, the expert doubted that Iran is really interested in acquiring these particular airliners. He suggested that by the time the deal is actually ready to be signed, the international situation may have changed sharply.

Besides, he said, there is no guarantee that it will ever get to sign of the contract or it will not be completed with predeterminedly unfavorable conditions.

"Iran does not trust us. It is enough to recall the situation with the deliveries of S-300 (which Russia was cancelled in 2010 after the UN imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program). Iran remembers it and has made certain conclusions," the expert said.

Iran is always playing its own game, Seregichev further added; it is always on its own.

"Very likely, it is a so-called "gallery play" for Washington. Additionally, Russia is taking into account Israel's position, including with respect to the situation in Syria, which hardly satisfies Iran," he concluded.

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