Putin meets Rouhani as Russia-Iran ties deepen


Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani that Iran is a “good neighbour” and “reliable and stable partner”.  President Rouhani arrived in Moscow on March 27 for a two-day state visit on the official invitation of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The talks between the two are being closely watched for signs of their next moves in Syria.

Iranian President’s first official visit to Russia comes as the two backers of the Syrian government push for ways to end the six-year conflict in the strife torn Arab country, having done much to marginalise US influence in peace talks.

At the start of their meeting, Putin told Rouhani that Moscow and Tehran “work very effectively, practically on all fronts, in international action and the resolution of major and very grave international problems,” state television showed.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said ahead of Rouhani’s trip that the leaders would discuss “regional issues especially the Syrian crisis, solutions to end it quickly,” as well as ways to counter “terrorism and extremism”.

The visit also comes as splits emerge between the countries, the primary allies of Syria, over the role to be played by Turkey, which is backing opponents of the regime.

Moscow has formed an unlikely alliance with Ankara since 2016, envisioning Turkey as part of a solution to the Syrian conflict.

Rouhani — accompanied by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and other high-ranking officials — is expected to sign a slew of economic cooperation agreements with Russia, according to Iranian state media.

The Kremlin said in a statement this month that Rouhani’s trip would focus in part on “the prospects of expanding trade, economic and investment ties.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier Tuesday that Moscow was striving to bolster its relations with Tehran, which he said had “very solid potential”.

After arriving on Monday, Rouhani met Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, with the Iranian president saying, “There is no doubt that cooperation between [our] two countries positively impacts stability and security in the region and in the world.” Medvedev described the Iranian president’s visit as a significant step in the development of relations and said it can aid the development of deeper bilateral ties.

On March 28, Rouhani received an honorary degree from  Moscow State University and addressed professors and students at a ceremony. “Resolving the issues of today’s world requires cooperation among scientists and governments,” Rouhani said, adding, “The decline of the West’s dominance and the end of the monopoly on wealth is a historic opportunity to build a new world.”

Noting that “there should be a global consensus to root out extremism and violence,” Iran’s president emphasized, “Islamophobia, racism and takfiri ideas have common roots.”

Noting the progress made foreign backed terrorists in Syria due to cooperation between Moscow and Tehran, Rouhani said, “Now the time has arrived to provide a situation for the return of refugees to their homeland with the help of all countries of the region.”

Also on March 28, Rouhani and Putin held “important” and “intensive” negotiations about regional and global issues as well as about the bilateral relationship. Referring to the 515 years of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Moscow, Putin said, “Iran is a good neighbor and a stable and reliable partner.”

Pointing to a 70-percent jump in trade volume between Iran and Russia in 2016 in comparison with the same time expansion last year, Putin noted that the achievement is unprecedented.

Russia sees great potential particularly for expanding cooperation with Iran in the oil and gas sphere, he highlighted.

“We see a good potential for expanding cooperation in the oil and gas sector. Leading Russian companies have reached a number of important agreements on the development of large hydrocarbon fields in Iran, our states cooperate within the framework of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, coordinate efforts to stabilize global oil markets,” Putin said.

Moreover, Russia and Iran will continue cooperation with an aim of stabilizing the global energy market and ensuring conditions for stable economic growth, a joint statement after the talks of the countries’ presidents said.

On his part, Rouhani said, “The cooperation between Tehran and Moscow is not targeted at a third country.” He added, “Iran and Russia’s relations are being conducted to enhance stability in the region, and the main intention of the two countries is to strengthen regional peace and tranquility.”

Iranian and Russian officials signed 14 documents on cooperation in the political, economic, scientific, legal and cultural fields on March 27 and 28. The two sides also signed other documents in the fields of information and communications technology, mining, railroad construction, extradition of criminals, nuclear energy, electricity, exports and tourism.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is accompanying Rouhani, said March 28, “Russia doesn’t have a military base [in Iran], we have good cooperation, and on a case by case basis, when it is necessary for Russians fighting terrorism to use Iranian facilities, we will make a decision.” In August, Russia used Shahid Nojeh air base in northwestern Iran to conduct airstrikes in Syria. 

However, use of the base turned out to be short-lived, given a strong domestic backlash in Iran over a foreign country’s use of local military facilities.

In addition to cooperation on Syria, energy and defence ties have deepened between Iran and Russia despite meagre trade relations.

Russia is to build nine of Iran’s 20 proposed nuclear reactors and has emerged as a long-term arms partner, supplying Tehran with its S-300 air defence missilesystem.

The government-run Iran daily on March 28 placed the landmark trip within the context of regional developments, writing, “Syria has faced important developments following Iran and Russia’s cooperation, and terrorist groups have been forced to retreat from Aleppo.

Iraqi military forces are advancing toward the last stronghold of Daesh [the Islamic State], and Mosul is close to being fully liberated. Turkey is dealing with political crises, an important referendum in April is being held in some European cities for [expatriate] Turks, and Turkey has triggered new challenges against Iran and Russia. The Yemeni crisis has not only not abated, but it has been exacerbated. [Meanwhile], Iran and Saudi Arabia’s relationship is facing tension.


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