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Iran Air could be banned from Europe if Tehran sends missiles to Russia, US warns

View shows the Iranian embassy in Kyiv

By Steve Holland and Angelo Amante

WASHINGTON/ROME (Reuters) -G7 nations are prepared to respond with severe new penalties that could include a ban on Iran Air flights to Europe if Iran proceeds with the transfer of close-range ballistic missiles to Russia, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

The official commented as the United States joined its six G7 allies in issuing a statement warning Iran against sending the missiles to Russia or else face the consequences.

"Were Iran to proceed with providing ballistic missiles or related technology to Russia, we are prepared to respond swiftly and in a coordinated manner including with new and significant measures against Iran," the G7 statement said.

The United States has been increasingly aggressive at responding to what Washington considers belligerent behavior by Iran, such as its support for Iran-backed militias in the region who are launching attacks on U.S. bases and Tehran's alleged hacking of U.S. infrastructure.

The G7 move came in the aftermath of a Reuters report that said Tehran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles for use in its invasion of Ukraine.

The senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one option under consideration by the G7 "would have the effect of ending flights from Iran Air, its flagship state-owned carrier, into Europe - point being, this is not business as usual."

Iran Air flies passengers from Iran to multiple cities in Europe.

The official said that while the United States had not been able to confirm that the transfer has already taken place as Reuters reported, there clearly was an effort by Tehran to advance negotiations with Moscow on the missiles.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Vienna on Friday: "On the question of Iranian missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine ... we sent very clear messages to Iran not to do it."

He added: "This has been the subject of considerable conversation among a number of countries in Europe and the United States and I think that the concern about that eventuality, and the commitment to address it, if necessary, is very real, and very strong."

U.S. officials held indirect talks with Iranian officials in the same building in Oman earlier this year in a conversation that was about Iran's support for Houthis launching attacks in the Red Sea, its support for Iran-backed proxies and other destabilizing behavior, a separate U.S. official said.

The G7 statement said sending Iranian missiles to Russia would represent "a substantive material escalation in its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine – an aggression which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the UN Charter."

U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran's export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

Ballistic missiles would be a powerful new weapon for Russia to use in its war in Ukraine.

The United States has said Iran has already provided Russia with drones, guided aerial bombs and artillery ammunition that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian targets.

Washington has been on high alert for a year about what it has described as an unprecedented Russian-Iranian defense partnership that will help Moscow prolong its war in Ukraine as well as pose a threat to Iran's neighbors.

The G7 group of major Western democracies is currently chaired by Italy and also includes the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France and Canada.

The statement came as the European Union is also considering measures against Iran for arming Russia, Reuters reported this week.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Angelo Amante in RomeAdditional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Vienna and John Irish in ParisEditing by Mark Heinrich and Matthew Lewis)