NEW YORK – The White House said Russian officials had visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice in recent weeks to see weapon-capable drones they were seeking to acquire for use in its war in Iran. course in Ukraine.
The administration released the information as President Joe Biden prepares to meet leaders of six Gulf Arab countries as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq for a regional summit on Saturday.
Biden is expected to deliver a “major statement” outlining his vision for the Middle East as he wraps up the final leg of a four-day trip designed to bolster US positioning and bring the region closer to Iran.
Iran presented the drones to Russian officials at Kashan airfield on June 8 and July 15, according to the White House.
The administration also released satellite images of Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones on display and in flight at the airfield, while a Russian delegation transport plane was on the ground.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the administration has “information that the Iranian government is preparing to supply Russia with several hundred drones.”
“We assess that an official Russian delegation recently received a showcase of attack-capable Iranian drones. We are releasing these images captured in June showing Iranian drones that the Russian government delegation saw that day,” Sullivan added. in a press release.
“This suggests continued Russian interest in acquiring attack-capable Iranian drones.”
Sullivan said U.S. officials believed the June visit “was the first time a Russian delegation has visited this airfield for such a showcase.”
On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, in a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, dismissed reports of Iranian drone exports to Russia, calling them “baseless”.
“These kinds of claims parallel to Biden’s visit to occupied Palestine, or Israel, are in line with political intentions and goals,” Amirabdollahian was quoted as saying by Iran’s Foreign Ministry website.
“We oppose any initiative that could lead to the continuation and escalation of conflicts.”
Biden seeks to strengthen coordination between the response of Middle Eastern allies to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what the ongoing conflict means for the region.
Many Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia in particular – are gravely concerned about Iran’s malign activities in the region.
None of the countries represented at the summit have joined the United States in sanctioning Russia, a key foreign policy priority of the Biden administration.
Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, the United Arab Emirates has become a destination of choice for Russian billionaires and their multimillion-dollar yachts, while Egypt remains open to Russian tourists.
Kashan Air Base, located some 190 kilometers south of Tehran, is one of the oldest airfields in Iran.
In 2021, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz linked Kashan to Iran’s drone program, alleging that Iran had trained militants from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen to fly drones at the facility. —Euronews