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Iranian tours Russia mission control

KOROLEV, Russia (AP) — Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Tuesday toured Russia's mission-control facility, which guides the Mir space station and where officials communicate with the new International Space Station.

Russia's willingness to supply arms and technology to Iran has provoked the anger of the United States, which says Iran sponsors terrorism. In the past, the United States has imposed sanctions against Russian companies accused of providing missile technology to Iran.

At mission control in Korolyov, just outside Moscow, Khatami looked at a huge screen showing Mir's orbit and toured the room from which Russian officials communicate with the multinational ISS, controlled out of NASA's Houston space center.

Khatami and his delegation showed intense interest in mission control's work, asking whether Mir flies over the United States on its orbits and even asking whether they could chat with the ISS crew. The ISS was out of contact, Russian officials said.

Yuri Koptev, head of the Russian Aerospace Agency, said the tour underlined Russia's and Iran's intentions to cooperate in the field of space and aviation.

"Iran has plans to develop high-tech industries and join in all areas of scientific and technical progress," said Koptev. "Cooperation with Russia in this field is a natural move."

Russia is bidding to build a telecommunications satellite for Iran, and the two countries are discussing deals under which Iran would build Russian-designed Tu-334 and Tu-204 jetliners under license. A jet deal could pump badly needed money into Russia's aircraft industry.

Russia and Iran are also talking about weapons sales. The Russian government has not divulged details of possible deals, but officials have indicated that Iran has expressed interest in buying the S-300 air defense missile system, fighter jets, helicopters, patrol boats and other weapons.

Putin said that Russia would provide Iran only with "defensive" weapons, adding that such sales wouldn't violate international agreements.

Russia says it obeys international agreements banning the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies, but warned Washington in November that it was abandoning a 1995 pledge not to sell tanks and other conventional weapons to Iran.

Moscow has also brushed off U.S. demands that it cancel an $800 million contract to complete the Bushehr nuclear plan.