Putin visits Tehran for talks with Iranian and Turkish leaders
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran starting Tuesday aims to deepen ties with regional heavyweights as part of Moscow’s challenge to the United States and Europe as part of his fierce campaign 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 against 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 alleged.
But perhaps more importantly, the trip to Tehran offers Putin a chance to have a high-stakes meeting with Erdogan, who has sought to help broker talks on a peaceful resolution to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as well as to help 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. He even sold deadly drones that Ukrainian forces used to attack Russia. 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 fend off 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 the countries – despite their longstanding rivalries – could agree to get closer to Iran, which has been rapidly advancing its nuclear program since former US President Donald Trump abandoned Tehran’s atomic deal with world powers and reimposed crushing sanctions. Talks to restore the deal have stalled. During his trip, Biden said he would be prepared to use military force against Iran as a last resort.
Cornered by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government accelerates uranium enrichment, suppresses dissent and grabbing headlines with bullish, tough stances meant to keep 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 resulting 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.
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. drive US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters from its borders. The operation is part of Turkey’s plan to create a safe zone along its border with Syria that would encourage the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
In a meeting with Erdogan, Khamenei issued a stern warning against the planned Turkish incursion.
“Any kind of military attack in northern Syria will certainly harm Turkey, Syria and the whole region, and will benefit terrorists,” the Iranian leader said, stressing the need to “put an end to the matter through talks”.
Humanitarian issues in Syria have also been front and center since Russia used its veto in the UN Security Council last week. to force a curb on aid deliveries to 4.1 million people in rebel-held northwest Syria after six months, down from 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 some aspects of a deal to secure the export of 22 million tonnes of grain and other desperately needed agricultural products 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.
Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine