Iran is driving a hard bargain for granting access to the US stealth drone RQ-170 it captured undamaged last week, as Russian and Chinese military intelligence teams arriving in Tehran for a look at the secret aircraft soon found. debkafile's Moscow sources disclose that the price set by Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Ali Jaafari includes advanced nuclear and missile technology, especially systems using solid fuel, the last word on centrifuges for enriching uranium and the S-300PMU-1 air defense system, which Moscow has consistently refused to sell Tehran.
This super-weapon is effective against stealth warplanes and cruise missiles and therefore capable of seriously impairing any large-scale US or Israeli air or missile attacks on Iran's nuclear sites.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent Russian-speaking Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Moscow on Dec. 7 to try and dissuade Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from letting Iran have the S-300 batteries as payment for access to the captured US drone.
Sources in Washington report that before sending Lieberman to Moscow, Netanyahu first checked with the White House at the highest levels.
Although he had his hands full with stormy demonstrations in Moscow protesting alleged election fraud, Putin received Lieberman at the Kremlin. But the interview was short. The Russian prime minister refused to discuss the episode with his Israeli guest or even confirm that Moscow was engaged in any deal with Tehran.
In answer to reporters' questions, Lieberman commented: "Russia's positions on the Middle East were not helpful."
American efforts to reach President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin on the drone deal through other channels were likewise rebuffed.
debkafile's sources report that the Israeli prime minister's decision to sent Lieberman post-haste to Moscow to intercede with Putin followed intelligence tips which indicated to Washington and Jerusalem that the Russians may have played a major role in Iran's capture of the RQ-170 on Dec. 4. They are suspected of even supplying Iran with the electronic bag of tricks for downing the US stealth drone undamaged.
If that is so, it would mean Moscow is deeply involved in helping Iran repel the next and most critical stage of the cyber war that was to have been launched on the day the US UAV was brought down.
Our exclusive intelligence sources add that that the RQ-170 was the first US drone of this type to enter Iranian skies. Its mission was specific.
Iran's success in determining the moment of the unmanned vehicle's entry and its success in transferring command of the drone's movements from US to Iranian control systems is an exceptional intelligence and technological feat in terms of modern electronic warfare.
Western intelligence watchers keeping track of the Russian and Chinese teams in Tehran have not discovered where the negotiations stand at this time or whether the Iranians have taken on both teams at once or are bargaining with each separately to raise the bidding.
Saturday, Dec. 10, the Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Gen. Hossein Salami, said Iran would not hand the captured drone back to the United States. He boasted: "The gap between us and the US or the Zionist regime and other developed countries is not so wide."
He sounded as though the bargaining with the two visiting teams was going well.