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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 19:31 GMT
Russia not ruling out Syria deal
Vladimir Putin
Putin said he was committed to preserving the balance of forces
Russia is still considering the sale of missiles to Syria despite opposition from Israel and the US, President Vladimir Putin has said.

He told the Jerusalem Post newspaper that the SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles would only be used in self-defence.

Israel fears the arms could be acquired by Palestinian militants or by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, whom Syria backs.

Moscow recently excused Syria from having to repay billions of dollars of Soviet-era debt for military purchases.

Visiting Mr Putin earlier this week, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad called for Russia to play a bigger role in the Middle East.

He said "military and technical" co-operation with Russia was on the agenda of his visit, but no specific contracts would be discussed.

He stressed that Syria needed missiles only to protect itself from Israeli air raids.

Sanctions risk

Mr Putin told the Jerusalem Post he was in talks with other regional leaders over the missile sale.

Interviewed in Poland, where he was commemorating the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp 60 years ago, Mr Putin said Russia was committed to "maintaining the balance of forces in the region".

"We have not taken a single step to violate that balance and we will follow that pattern in the future," he said.

He added that Russia would not introduce weapons to the region that "can be used by terrorists or that can be transferred to terrorists without controls".

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

Sharon rejects talks with Syria
02 Dec 04 |  Middle East
Timeline: Syria
08 Dec 04 |  Country profiles

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