MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has received the Iranian leader’s top adviser hours after conferring with the Israeli prime minister about Iran’s presence in Syria.
The Kremlin said Thursday that Putin has met with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but wouldn’t offer any details of the talks. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Velayati handed Putin letters from Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Peskov said in a conference call with reporters that the letters dealt with bilateral relations and the situation in the region, but refused to elaborate.
Velayati’s visit came hours after Putin hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reaffirmed the Israeli demand for the Iranian withdrawal from Syria.
“Our opinion is known that Iran needs to leave Syria — that is not something new for you,” Netanyahu said at the start of Wednesday’s talks in the Kremlin.
Moscow has teamed up with Tehran to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, but their interests do not always converge. Russia also has maintained warm ties with Israel and demonstrated a readiness to take its security interests into account.
The Iranian presence in Syria is expected to top the agenda of Monday’s summit in Helsinki between Putin and US President Donald Trump. Both the United States and Israel want Iran to pull out from Syria, but Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.
A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and its proxy Hezbollah militia in the areas near Israel’s Golan Heights.