TEHRAN Iran will soon unveil a domestically-made air defence system with at least the same capability as Russia's S-300 anti-aircraft hardware, an Iranian air force commander was quoted as saying on Monday.
Last month, Russia's state arms trader declined to say whether it would go ahead with the sale of S-300 to Iran, which could protect the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities from air strikes.
Iranian officials have expressed growing irritation at Russia's failure so far to supply the missile system, which Israel and the United States do not want Tehran to have.
"The only equipment we wanted to import from abroad was the S-300 ... which Russia, based upon unacceptable reasons, has not delivered yet," the official IRNA news agency quoted commander Heshmatollah Kassiri as saying.
"In the near future, a new locally-made air defence system will be unveiled by the country's experts and scientists which is as powerful as the S-300 missile defence system, or even stronger," he said.
Russia is under intense Western pressure to distance itself from Iran in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme, but has refused to rule out the delivery of the S-300 system.
Analysts say the S-300 could help Iran to thwart any attempt by Israel or the United States to bomb its nuclear facilities.
Last year, Russian officials said Iran was not under international sanctions that would restrict its purchases of defence systems, but left it unclear whether any parts of the S-300 had actually been delivered.
The truck-mounted S-300PMU1, known in the West as the SA-20, can shoot down cruise missiles and aircraft. It has a range of 150 km (90 miles) and travels at more than two km per second.
Washington has sought pledges from Russia for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear energy programme, which the West suspects is intended to produce nuclear weapons. Tehran denies any such intention.
Israel has hinted it could attack Iran in an effort to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran has threatened to retaliate for any attack by firing missiles at Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
"The country's air defences are strong enough to confront the enemies ... and we will never let them get close to our sensitive nuclear centres," Kassiri said.
(Reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Reza Derakhshi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by David Stamp)