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A Russian arms export official said on Wednesday the delivery of its S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Iran had been delayed because of technical problems but would go ahead, Interfax news agency reported.

However, the agency later quoted one of the missile's chief designers, Vladimir Kasparyants, as saying:

"There are no technical questions. It's a political issue."

The planned sale of Russian air defense hardware, which could help protect Iran's nuclear facilities from air strikes, is a major irritant for the United States and Israel, whose prime minister lobbied against the sale this week.

"There is a delay due to technical problems. The delivery will be completed when they are solved," Alexander Fomin, first deputy director of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, was quoted as saying. The body controls Russian arms exports.

The comments, which reaffirm earlier statements from senior officials, come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week urged the Kremlin not to sell the system to Iran during a two-day trip to Moscow.

The truck-mounted S-300 can shoot down hostile missiles or aircraft up to 150 km (90 miles) away.