Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met Saturday to discuss regional issues including both countries’ involvement in the Syrian civil war and the US withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.
The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao.
Russia and Iran are both providing military assistance to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad as it strives to suppress an insurgency now in its eighth year.
Rouhani told the press that Tehran’s efforts with Russia to defeat the Islamic State group have been “effective,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
He highlighted their cooperation in fighting terror, stabilizing Syria and other defense and economic issues. That collaboration will continue, Rouhani said.
Putin echoed the Iranian leader in saying that their joint regional alliance will go on, particularly in Syria, Fars reported.
Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon and has carried out airstrikes against Iran-backed forces and their attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held talks, face-to-face and by phone, with Putin in which he stressed that Jerusalem wants Iranian forces — including Hezbollah and other Shiite militias — entirely out of Syria, and not just the southwestern region closest to the Jewish state.
Earlier this month Israeli officials denied claims by Russia’s ambassador to the UN that it has reached an agreement with Moscow on the withdrawal of Iranian forces from southwest Syria.
The SCO meets this year after Trump controversially pulled Washington out of the 2015 international pact with Iran that placed limits on its nuclear program in return for easing economic sanctions.
Though not officially on the agenda, analysts say the summit may focus on whether Iran will be allowed to become a full member state, which it has been unable to achieve while subject to UN sanctions.
The 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, lifted that barrier. However, having pulled out of the deal, the US now says it will impose severe economic and trade sanctions on Iran.
The other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, along with Iran — have all said they want to keep the agreement going. In recent days Iranian officials have vowed to boost the country’s uranium enrichment capacity. The moves they have outlined would not violate the 2015 nuclear accord, but would allow Iran to quickly ramp up enrichment if the agreement unravels. Iranian state television broadcast an interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, live from the Natanz uranium enrichment plant with three domestically built centrifuges clearly labeled in English in the background.
In his meeting with Putin, Rouhani said a “more serious and important” dialogue between Russia and Iran was needed regarding the nuclear deal following Washington’s “illegal” withdrawal from the pact, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Speaking to AFP in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, senior Iranian official Massoumeh Ebtekar said Iran hoped European powers, Russia and China would confirm their willingness to uphold the deal “as soon as possible because Iran cannot wait forever.”
“We have been a faithful player to this commitment, we’ve done our best, we’ve shown our good intentions. We are facing a very volatile region,” she said.
Now in the wake of the US withdrawal from the pact, “SCO members may use granting full membership to Iran as a way to demonstrate support for (Tehran) and the nuclear agreement,” said Dawn Murphy, professor of international security studies at the US Air War College.
Putin described the US pullout from the nuclear deal as a “unilateral and illegal move” and declared Moscow will negotiate with other parties to the deal to keep it intact, Fars reported.
Netanyahu last week traveled to Europe where he held meetings with leaders in Britain, France, and Germany regarding Iranian regional activities in the Middle East. Following each of the meetings the Israeli leader declared the Iran deal over, due to the coming US sanctions.