WASHINGTON -- Through secret deals with Russia, North Korea and other countries, Iran is conducting a multibillion-dollar arms buildup that is fast making it the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf region, according to informed U.S. government sources.
Through the massive buildup, which includes purchases of SU-24 Soviet attack fighter-bombers and advanced MiG-29 fighter planes, as well as tanks and other arms, Iran already has achieved parity with Iraq, long the region's mightiest military force, the sources said yesterday.
Cash-strapped Russia is selling Iran arms from the Red Army's inventory to obtain foreign exchange.
"It's a cash-and-carry deal at cut-rate prices and arms bazaars are sprouting up all over the place," said one knowledgeable source.
One Bush administration official said: "The buildup has been acrossthe board -- conventional arms and unconventional in the areas of missiles and nuclear research. Our concern is . . . what they plan to do with it."
The official refused to provide details on the "nuclear research."
The Bush administration has insisted that existing controls over Soviet nuclear weapons will prevent their unauthorized use or diversion by the former Soviet republics.
UI Privately, U.S. officials, as well as Iran's Arab neighbors, view the
buildup with increasing concern.
Saudi Arabian officials also find the buildup "unsettling," said a Saudi source. But the Saudis have been somewhat reassured by the positive tone that has continued to mark diplomatic initiatives by Iran.
In the past, Israel has supported a stronger Iran as a counterforce to the Iraqi military machine. But with Iraq devastated by last year's war, Israel now sees a more powerful Iran as a greater menace.