DUBAI Russia has stopped using an Iranian air base for strikes in Syria, Iran’s foreign ministry announced on Monday, bringing an abrupt halt to an unprecedented deployment that was criticized both by the White House and some Iranian lawmakers.
Last week long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Nojeh air base, near the city of Hamadan, in north-west Iran to launch air strikes against armed groups in Syria.
It was the first time a foreign power used an Iranian base since World War Two. Russia and Iran are both providing crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad against rebels and jihadi fighters in Syria’s five-year-old conflict.
Some Iranian lawmakers called the move a breach of Iran’s constitution which forbids “the establishment of any kind of foreign military base in Iran, even for peaceful purposes”.
Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan dismissed that criticism but also chided Moscow for publicizing the move, describing it as showing off and a “betrayal of trust.”
“We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay,” Dehghan was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency late on Sunday.
He said there was “no written agreement” between the two countries and the “operational cooperation” was temporary and limited to refueling.
The U.S. state department last week called the move “unfortunate but not surprising,” and said it was looking into whether it violated UN Security Council resolution 2231, which prohibits supply, sale and transfer of combat aircraft to Iran.
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Russia’s use of the base has ended.
“Russia has no base in Iran and is not stationed here. They did this (operation) and it is finished for now,” Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
Iran’s defense minister had said last week that Russia will be permitted to use the Nojeh base “for as long as they need”.
Relations between the two countries, long cordial, appeared to reach a new level last September when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military intervention in Syria in support of Assad.
After some delay, Russia supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership that is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East.
Dehghan said that to make up for the delay, Russia had suggested providing Iran with its advanced S-400, but that Tehran was not interested as it is working to advance its own home-made defense system.
Iran unveiled its new missile defense system, Bavar 373, on Monday, a system designed to intercept cruise missiles, drones, combat aircraft and ballistic missiles.
Iran’s defense minister also said Tehran has shown interest in buying Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets and Moscow’s reply “has not been negative so far.”
The United States has said it would use its veto power in the United Nations’ Security Council to block the possible sales of the fighter jets to Iran.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Dominic Evans)