SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan — Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the cooperation among countries sanctioned by the United States will make them “stronger.”
“The relationship between countries that are sanctioned by the US, such as Iran, Russia or other countries, can overcome many problems and issues and make them stronger,” Raisi said in a meeting with Putin in Uzbekistan.
“The Americans think whichever country they impose sanctions on, it will be stopped. Their perception is a wrong one.”
Putin hailed growing ties with Tehran as he met Raisi on the sidelines of a regional summit.
“On the bilateral level, cooperation is developing positively,” Putin said, as Moscow looks to use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan to show it is not isolated internationally despite its invasion of Ukraine.
“We are doing everything to make Iran a full member of the SCO,” Putin added, in reference to Tehran’s application for full membership in the group, which brings together China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four ex-Soviet Central Asian countries.
Iran, one of four SCO observer states, applied for full membership in 2008 but its bid was slowed by UN and US sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. Several SCO members did not want a country under international sanctions in their ranks — a situation that now applies to Russia as well.
Putin said work on a major new Russia-Iran treaty on strategic ties was nearly completed and that Moscow would be sending a Russian business delegation to Iran next week to develop commercial ties.
Putin, Raisi and China’s Xi Jinping gathered with other Asian leaders in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand for a summit touted as a challenge to Western global influence.
The main summit day will be Friday, but a meeting of the Chinese and Russian leaders later Thursday is set to be closely watched, with talks about the conflict in Ukraine expected.
Earlier on Thursday, Putin also sat down with the presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan while Xi met Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
For Xi — on his first trip abroad since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic — it is an opportunity to shore up his credentials as a global statesman ahead of a pivotal congress of the ruling Communist Party in October.
The summit is also a chance for both leaders to thumb their noses at the West, especially the United States, which has led the charge in imposing sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and angered Beijing with recent shows of support for Taiwan.
Entry to Samarkand, a city of grand tiled mosques that was one of the hubs of Silk Road trade routes between China and Europe, has been restricted for days, with its airport shut to commercial flights.
Security was tight across the city, with a huge police presence on the streets and armored vehicles parked downtown.
The SCO — made up of China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — was set up in 2001 as a political, economic and security organization to rival Western institutions.
Much of the focus, however, will be on bilateral talks.
Besides Xi, Putin was also set Thursday to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, then on Friday to hold talks with Indian premier Narendra Modi and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It was not clear who else Xi might meet, although talks with Modi would be their first since 2019. China-India relations turned frosty over deadly fighting in 2020 on their disputed Himalayan border.
Formerly Cold War allies with a tempestuous relationship, China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years as part of what they call a “no-limits” relationship acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States.
Xi and Putin last met in Beijing in early February for the Winter Olympic Games, days before Putin launched the military offensive in Ukraine.
Beijing has not explicitly endorsed Moscow’s military action but has steadily built economic and strategic ties with Russia during the nearly seven-month conflict. Xi has assured China’s support of Russian “sovereignty and security.”
Russia has in turn backed China over Taiwan, calling US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island this summer a “clear provocation.”
The two countries have also stepped up military cooperation in recent years, with China sending hundreds of troops to take part in military exercises last month in Russia’s Far East.
The defense ministry in Moscow said Thursday that Russian and Chinese warships were on a joint patrol in the Pacific and planning a live-fire artillery exercise at sea.