Putin to visit Iran for first time in six years

Russian president meets with his Iranian counterpart, asserts Tehran’s right to atomic energy program

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani,  Friday, September 13, 2013 (photo credit: via YouTube)
Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, Friday, September 13, 2013 (photo credit: via YouTube)

Vladimir Putin has accepted an Iranian invitation to visit the country and meet with newly elected President Hasan Rouhani, a spokesman for the Russian president confirmed. The visit to Tehran would be Putin’s first since 2007.

“Putin has been invited to Iran, and he will certainly take advantage of this kind invitation,” the Interfax news agency quoted spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Friday. “The dates of the visit will be agreed upon through diplomatic channels.”

The announcement came on the heels of a report that Russia had agreed to sell to Iran the advanced S-300 air defense system and construct a new nuclear reactor at the Bushehr site.

Putin met with Rouhani on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Friday. During the meeting, Rouhani extended an invitation to Putin, who accepted, the Iranian semi-official Fars news agency reported.

In July, there were reports that Putin would travel to Iran in August to revive negotiations over the country’s controversial nuclear program, but those plans appeared to fall through.

Putin’s spokesman on Wednesday denied the report that the Kremlin had decided to sign a new deal to deliver the air-defense missile systems to Iran.

The business daily Kommersant had reported that Russia would supply Iran with five state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft batteries and a new nuclear reactor in Bushehr, citing “a source close to the Kremlin.”

After calling off a transfer of five S-300 missile batteries to Iran three years ago, Russia was said to be interested in renewing the agreement and in setting up a civilian nuclear reactor for its longtime ally as part of a deal worth $800 million.

The two countries initially signed the S-300 missile system deal in 2007, but it was called off three years later due to UN Security Council sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The cancellation of the agreement led to tensions between the two countries, including a $4 billion Iranian lawsuit against Russia.

Israel and the West have expressed concern in the past over Iran obtaining the state-of-the-art anti-aircraft missiles, as they could theoretically affect the outcome of an airstrike against Iran’s nuclear reactors.

During his meeting Friday with Rouhani, Putin praised Iran as a “good neighbor” to his country.

“We know how much in international affairs is revolving around the Iranian nuclear problem, but we in Russia know something else, too: that Iran is our neighbor, a good neighbor,” AFP quoted Putin as saying. “We do not choose our neighbors.”

The Russian leader affirmed that “Iran, as any other state, has the right for peaceful use of atomic energy, including enrichment.”

Rouhani, in turn, called for new steps toward resolving his country’s longstanding nuclear standoff with the West. The US and its allies believe that Iran is striving for a nuclear weapons capability while Tehran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful in nature.

“Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, we want the swiftest solution to it within international norms,” Rouhani told Putin, according to Reuters. “Russia in the past has taken important steps in this sphere and now is the best opportunity for new steps from your side.”

“I declare that only if there is political will, if there is mutual respect and mutual interest, and only if the rights of Iran’s people are ensured, can we guarantee the peaceful character of Iran’s nuclear program,” he reportedly added.

Rouhani is widely perceived as being more moderate than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to a report last week in The Los Angeles Times, the US and Iran are on the cusp of resuming direct talks for the first time in years. A meeting between officials of the two countries would likely take place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, the report said.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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