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Bennett to Putin: World must stand firm against Iran’s nuclear progress

In phone call, Russian president invites PM and his wife to St. Petersburg, months after the pair met face to face in Sochi

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shake hands during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shake hands during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Evgeny Biyatov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that countries negotiating with Iran in Vienna must stand firm against progress in Tehran’s nuclear program.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the two spoke via phone about regional security issues, and agreed on “continued close cooperation in this area” — a likely reference to Israeli Air Force activity in Syria, where Moscow maintains a military presence.

“Against the backdrop of the nuclear talks in Vienna, the prime minister stressed the importance of a strong and determined stance against Iran’s progress in the nuclear project,” the statement read.

The PMO said the conversation between the pair was “good” and that Putin invited Bennett and his wife to visit St. Petersburg, an invitation the prime minister indicated he would accept.

Russia is one of seven parties — along with China, France, the UK, the US, the EU and Germany — negotiating with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear program. The talks restarted in November after taking a months-long break during which hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of Iran.

In recent days, Iranian officials have expressed more optimism than other parties to the talks about the possibility of reaching an agreement, but international leaders as well as Israeli officials are increasingly convinced a deal is on the way.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani leaves the Palais Coburg, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting that aims at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, however, said Tuesday that talks are proceeding so slowly that they are unlikely to lead to any agreement “within a realistic timeframe.”

On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said that efforts by “all parties” to revive his country’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers had resulted in “good progress” during the Vienna talks.

Reports have indicated that the negotiations are expected to culminate by the end of January or early February.

Britain, France and Germany said last month that the window for concluding a deal was “weeks, not months,” due to the speed of Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the talks, in a discussion centered on “Israel’s demand to put pressure on Iran,” said Lapid.

Bennett met Putin in Sochi in October, the first time they sat down face to face since Bennett became prime minister.

Putin had been seen as having a warm relationship with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Russian leader told Bennett he hoped to continue with him in the same vein. Putin also spoke late last month with President Isaac Herzog, and they each invited each other to visit their respective countries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was slated to visit Israel last month and meet with Bennett, Herzog and Lapid, but canceled at the last minute, without giving a clear reason.

AFP contributed to this report.

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