Putin visits Tehran for talks with Iranian and Turkish leaders


TEHRAN, Iran – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran from Tuesday aims to deepen ties with regional heavyweights as part of Moscow’s challenge to the United States and Europe as part of its campaign fiercely in Ukraine.

On only his second trip abroad since Russian tanks rolled into his neighbor in February, Putin is due to hold talks with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on pressing issues facing the region. , including the conflict in Syria and a supported the proposal to resume Ukrainian grain exports to alleviate the global food crisis.

As the West ramps up sanctions on Russia and the costly campaign drags on, Putin is seeking to strengthen ties with Tehran, another target of tough US sanctions and a potential military and trade partner. In recent weeks, Russian officials have visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to examine Tehran’s weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine, the White House has claimed. .

But perhaps more importantly, Tehran is offering Putin a chance to have a high-stakes meeting with Erdogan, who has sought to help broker talks on a peaceful settlement of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as well as help the negotiations to unblock Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea. .

Turkey, a member of NATO, has found itself facing Russia in bloody conflicts in Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria. But Turkey has not imposed sanctions on the Kremlin, making it an indispensable partner for Moscow. Struggling with runaway inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, Turkey is also relying on the Russian market.

The rally also holds symbolic significance for Putin’s domestic audience, showing Russia’s international influence even as it increasingly isolates itself and plunges deeper into confrontation with the West. It comes just days after US President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia – Tehran’s main rivals in the region.

From Jerusalem and Jeddah, Biden urged Israel and Arab countries to push back against Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence that has grown with the perception of America’s withdrawal from the region.

It was a tough sell. Israel enjoys good relations with Putin, a necessity given the Russian presence in Syria, Israel’s northeast neighbor and frequent target of his airstrikes. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have so far refused to pump more oil beyond a plan approved by their energy alliance with Moscow.

But all countries – despite their longstanding rivalries – could agree to move closer to Iran, which has rapidly advanced its nuclear program since former President Donald Trump abandoned Tehran’s atomic deal with the world powers and reimposed crushing sanctions. Talks to restore the deal are at an impasse. During his trip, Biden said he would be prepared to use military force against Iran as a last resort.

Read more: Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia is really about Russia

Cornered by the West and regional rivals, the Iranian government is accelerating uranium enrichment, suppressing dissent and grabbing headlines with optimistic and tough stances meant to prevent Iran’s currency, the rial, from collapsing . With no sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s tactical partnership with Russia has become one of survival, even as Moscow appears to be undermining Tehran’s black-market oil trade.

“Iran is (the) center of dynamic diplomacy,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian wrote on Twitter, adding that the meetings will “develop economic cooperation, focus on regional security via solution policy… and ensure food security”.

Fadahossein Maleki, a member of Iran’s influential parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, on Monday described Russia as Iran’s “most strategic partner”. His comments belied decades of animosity stemming from Russia’s occupation of Iran during World War II and its refusal to leave afterwards.

Putin’s foreign adviser Yuri Ushakov called Iran “an important partner for Russia” during a Monday briefing, saying the countries shared “the desire to take their relations to a new level of strategic partnership “.

During his fifth visit to Tehran, Putin will meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with whom he has a “dialogue of trust”, Ushakov said. He will also meet with President Raisi on issues such as the Tehran nuclear deal, of which Russia is one of the main signatories. The leaders met in Moscow in January and again last month in Turkmenistan.

The talks between the three presidents will focus on the decade-old conflict in Syria, where Iran and Russia have backed the government of President Bashar Assad, while Turkey has backed armed opposition factions. Russia intervened in the conflict in 2015, joining forces with Lebanese Hezbollah militants and Iranian forces and using its air power to bolster Assad’s fledgling army and ultimately turn the tide in his favor.

Read more: How the Arab world is reacting to the war in Ukraine

Ushakov said the parties will discuss efforts to encourage a political settlement, while Erdogan is expected to respond to Turkey’s threats of a new military offensive in northern Syria to drive out US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters of its borders. The operation is part of Turkey’s plans to create a safe zone along its border with Syria that would encourage the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.

Russia strongly opposes the planned Turkish incursion, Ushakov stressed. Humanitarian issues in Syria have also been front and center since Russia used its UN Security Council veto last week to impose a restriction on aid deliveries to 4.1 million people in the northwestern Syria held by the rebels after six months, instead of a year.

Talks to lift the Russian blockade and bring Ukrainian grain to world markets will also be on the agenda. Last week, UN, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish officials reached an agreement in principle on aspects of a deal to secure the export of 22 million tonnes of grain and other desperately needed agricultural products. needed, trapped in Ukrainian Black Sea ports by the fighting.

Tuesday’s meeting between Putin and Erdogan could help clear remaining hurdles, a major step towards easing a food crisis that has sent prices of vital commodities like wheat and barley soaring.

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Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.

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