The White House says Russian officials have visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice in recent weeks to view weapons-capable drones it seeks to acquire for its ongoing war in Ukraine.
The administration released the intelligence as President Joe Biden is meeting Saturday with the leaders of six Arab Gulf countries, as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq for a regional summit. Biden is expected to deliver his “keynote statement” outlining his vision for the Middle East as he closes the final leg of a four-day trip aimed at bolstering the US position and uniting the region against Iran.
Iran displayed the drones for Russian officials at the 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 being shown and flying 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 provide Russia with several hundred unmanned aerial vehicles.”
“We assess that an official Russian delegation recently received a display of Iranian strike-capable UAVs. We are publishing these images captured in June showing Iranian UAVs that the Russian government delegation saw that day,” Sullivan added in a statement. “This suggests continued Russian interest in acquiring Iranian strike-capable UAVs.”
Sullivan said US officials believe the June visit “was the first time a Russian delegation had visited this airfield for such a display.”
Biden seeks to strengthen coordination between Middle Eastern allies’ response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what the ongoing conflict means for the region. Many of the Gulf nations—Saudi Arabia, in particular—have serious concerns about Iran’s malign activity in the region.
None of the countries represented at the summit have moved in unison with the United States to sanction Russia, a key foreign policy priority for the Biden administration. If anything, the UAE has become a kind of financial haven for Russian billionaires and their billionaire yachts. Egypt remains open to Russian tourists.
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