US defense officials said in a briefing on Wednesday that it is not a good idea for Iran to provide military drones to Russia, without elaborating further.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mike Milley speaking extensively on the war in Ukraine responded to questions about US accusations that Russia is planning to obtain Iranian drones to strengthen its weakening position in battles.

Austin responding to a question said, “on the issue of Iranian support to Russia, we would -- we would advise Iran to not -- to not do that. We think it's a really, really bad idea. And I'll leave that at that.” Gen Milley refused to expand on Austin's remarks "at the microphone."

Last week, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan twice warned that Moscow appears to be looking at buying Iranian drones and Russian officers even visited a drone base in Iran’s Kashan to review their options. His statements hinted at possible training of Russian crews to operate the drones and said the this would cause more civilian deaths in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the head of US Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns said Wednesday, “It’s true that the Russians are reaching out to the Iranians to try to acquire armed drones,” Bloomberg reported.

Iran's Shahed drone, the most likely candidate for Russia to acquire

“They need each other, they don’t really trust each other, in the sense that they’re energy rivals and historical competitors,” Burns said. “It’s important to remind ourselves that it’s a reflection, in some ways, of the deficiencies of Russia’s defense industry today, and the difficulties they’re having after significant losses so far in the war against Ukraine,” Burns added.

Iranian officials have responded by reiterating Tehran’s position of neutrality in the war and that Iran would not supply military hardware to any of the sides, but there was never a clear denial of the American accusation. On the contrary, Iranians insisted that Tehran and Moscow have long-running military cooperation.

Iran’s ambiguous position became clearer this week, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin visited Tehran on Tuesday and met Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who described Russia’s attack on Ukraine as Mr. Putin’s praiseworthy “initiative” to counter what he described as “an inevitable” NATO military intervention.

On Wednesday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani responding to a question on the drone issue, said “Iranian and Russian technological cooperation predates developments in Ukraine. Any linkage between our cooperation with Russia with developments in Ukraine is intentionally biased.”

Instead of denying the US accusation, Kanaani indirectly hinted at military cooperation with Russia even in drone technology.

It is entirely possible that Iran would help Russia to produce some of its drones with slightly different material and then claim the UAVs are not Iranian. To a large extent, Tehran has done just that with Houthis in Yemen, but it will not be difficult to determine that the weapons are copies of Iranian UAVs. However, given the fact that Russia is pressed for time by the highly accurate Western weapons provided to Ukraine, it will outright acquire and use Iranian drones.

Tehran that has delayed an agreement with the United States to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement ditched by President Donald Trump, seems increasingly confident that with high oil prices it can continue to expand its nuclear program and develop a new anti-West front with Moscow.

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