Russia selling subs to Iran, U.S. aides say

September 24, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Russia is selling diesel submarines to Ira despite protests from Washington, and the first of the vessels is expected to sail for Iran shortly, senior Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The sale worries the U.S. Navy, which says the Iranian submarines will introduce a new threat to naval operations in the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, which carry much of the world's oil.

According to Pentagon officials, Russia is selling two or three submarines to Iran, which will be the first Persian Gulf country to possess submarines.

"This will introduce a significant kind of warfare that has been absent from the region," a senior Pentagon official said. "When you look at the countries around the Persian Gulf, you could end up with some kind of domino effect."

According to estimates by Western experts, the submarines, which in the NATO identification system are known as Kilo-class vessels, are worth about $250 million each.

Unlike nuclear-powered submarines, diesel submarines cannot run submerged at high speeds for long periods. But diesel submarines are quieter and harder to detect than nuclear-powered ones, adding to the Navy's concern.

The British searched in vain for an Argentine diesel sub over a 30-day period during the Falklands War.

The submarine deal is one of a number of arms sales to Iran by the cash-starved Russian republic which have concerned Washington. A Pentagon official said that the Russians have sold two dozen SU-24 bombers to Iran and are providing spare parts for some of the Iraqi planes that were flown to Iran during the

Persian Gulf war and have been put in service by Iran's air force.

Earlier this month, Russia agreed to sell two 440-megawatt nuclear power reactors to Iran. The Russians insist that the civilian plants are to provide power, and will be under international safeguards. But the United States had urged Moscow not to make the sale because it fears that Tehran will not keep its commitments and is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Pentagon officials said that the submarine sale has been in the works for some time.

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