Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday denied his country had sent drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine, as the US claims Iran not only provided the weapons but is helping Russia to build a plant to make them.
“We are against the war in Ukraine,” Mr Raisi said as he met with media executives on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
He said if the US has “a document that Iran gave weapons or drones to the Russians after the war”, they should produce it.
He spoke hours after five Americans imprisoned by Iran arrived in Qatar, freed in a deal that involved President Joe Biden agreeing to unfreeze nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea.
Tehran has been sanctioned by the US and EU for its suspected weapons supplies to Moscow, which analysts say have increased as the conflict has progressed, and has repeatedly denied sending drones and missiles to Russia.
Ukraine regularly accuses Russia of killing civilians in drone strikes using Iranian-made Shahid models.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Iran to halt its aid to Russia, calling on Tehran to halt its slide “to the dark side of history".
The UN has been urged to investigate claims of Iranian weapon supplies to Moscow, with western powers saying such deals are contrary to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Washington's UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said investigators should be sent to Kyiv to study the origin of the suspected Iranian drones.
The White House has said Tehran is helping Moscow to build a drone factory east of Moscow, according to an intelligence report released in June.
Satellite imagery showed a site 900km east of Moscow, which National Security Council spokesman John Kirby claimed could be fully operational by next year.
He condemned Tehran's “defence partnership” with Moscow as “harmful to Ukraine, to Iran’s neighbours and to the international community” and said Russia had been “terrorising” Ukrainian civilians with Iranian-made drones.
Also on Monday, the head of the UN's nuclear agency said he has asked to meet Mr Raisi on the sidelines of the UNGA to try to reverse Tehran's ban on a “very sizeable chunk” of its nuclear inspectors.
Rafael Grossi said he wrote to Mr Raisi to tell him it is “very important” to discuss Tehran’s targeting of inspectors, including “some of the best and most experienced".
“I’m waiting for an answer,” Mr Grossi told AP on Monday.
“It’s very difficult to get the expertise to go to very sophisticated uranium enrichment facilities. So, when you start limiting that … I have to say, this is not good. Stop it.”