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Last Updated: Friday, 14 January, 2005, 16:28 GMT
Russia denies Syria missile plan
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Sergey Lavrov said there were no missile talks with Syria
The Russian government has again denied reports that it is planning to sell powerful new missiles to Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was no truth in the reports, echoing previous comments by Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov.

The issue was raised on Thursday by Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who said he had urged Russia not to go ahead with the alleged plans.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is to visit Moscow at the end of this month.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Moscow says there are fears that Syria could be trying to get hold of SS-26 Iskander tactical missiles, similar to the Scuds once used by Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

With a range of almost 300km (190 miles), they would be able to hit most of Israel.

Of even more concern are Igla anti-aircraft missiles, which are portable, shoulder-launched and ideal for targeting aeroplanes and helicopters, our correspondent says.

However, Mr Lavrov denied that Moscow was negotiating with Damascus on the issue, saying: "We don't have any secret topics in our relations with Syria."

'No missile talks'

His denial came two days after Mr Ivanov said Russia had no intention of selling missiles to Syria.

Speaking after a meeting with US State Secretary Colin Powell in Washington, Mr Ivanov told Russian television on Wednesday: "There are no talks under way between Russia and Syria concerning shipment of such missiles. Such talks are not taking place."

On Thursday, after a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Mr Shalom said: "We spoke to the Russians and we asked them to scrap this contract."

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

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

The Russian and Israeli media say the missile issue has caused a crisis in bilateral relations ahead of Mr Assad's visit to Russia.

But Mr Ivanov said such allegations always emerged whenever a Middle East leader visited Moscow.

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