On an official visit to Tehran, Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly backed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, and hailed cooperation with the Islamic republic on the Syrian conflict.
Putin was on a one-day trip to the Iranian capital on November 1 for trilateral talks between Azerbaijan, Iran, and Russia -- a meeting largely focused on improving transport links, trade, and energy cooperation between the three Caspian states.
However, the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and Syria’s civil war loomed large as Putin met with Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.
Russia is one of the signatories to the landmark nuclear accord under which Tehran agreed to curb its atomic program in exchange for sanctions relief.
U.S. President Donald Trump refused to recertify the deal in October and has threatened to withdraw the United States if what he calls serious flaws in the accord cannot be fixed by U.S. lawmakers and U.S. allies.
Trump slammed Tehran for what he said are violations of the "spirit" of the agreement, in part for its continued testing of ballistic missiles and its support for extremists in the Middle East.
The European Union and the other parties to the deal -- Russia, Britain, China, France, and Germany -- have all urged Trump not to pull the United States out of the agreement.
Putin told Khamenei that Moscow opposes "any unilateral change" to the nuclear accord, according to a statement from the supreme leader's office.
"We oppose linking Iran's nuclear program with other issues, including defensive issues," he added.
In a joint statement released after their meeting, the presidents of Iran, Russia, and Azerbaijan said that all parties to the deal "should strictly abide by their obligations," according to the Russian state news agency TASS.
On Syria, Putin praised cooperation with Iran as "very productive," saying that Moscow and Tehran are "managing to coordinate our positions on the Syrian issue."
Speaking after talks with Rohani and Khamenei, the Russian president said that the situation in Syria and peace talks to resolve the crisis were developing positively. He also stressed that no one country could resolve the Syrian crisis on its own.
Moscow and Tehran are backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the country’s civil war, which has entered its seventh year, while the United States and Turkey back differing rebel groups.
Rohani said that cooperation between Tehran and Moscow is necessary to "bring stability and peace to Syria" and to "fight against regional terrorism."
'Stepping Up Cooperation'
Khamenei said during his meeting with Putin that Tehran and Moscow need to step up cooperation to isolate the United States and restore peace in the Middle East, Iranian state media reported.
State television quoted the supreme leader as saying, "Full resolution of Syria's crisis needs strong cooperation between Iran and Russia ... Our cooperation can isolate America ... This cooperation will restore stability in the region."
Ahead of Putin's arrival, Russia's armed forces chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, met with his Iranian counterpart, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, and discussed defense and security issues, Iranian state television said.
Putin’s visit came a day after representatives from Russia, Iran, and Turkey discussed the Syrian conflict in Astana, Kazakhstan, and pledged to bring Assad's regime and its opponents together for a "congress" to jump-start peace efforts later this month.
'Congress Of National Dialogue'
A statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry website listed 33 Syrian organizations invited to a "Congress of Syrian National Dialogue" in the Russian city of Sochi on November 18.
However, two main Syrian opposition groups -- the Syrian National Council and the High Negotiations Committee -- rejected the proposed conference, the dpa news agency reported.
There have been seven rounds of Astana talks, which began in January and are sponsored by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
The Astana talks have run parallel to negotiations taking place in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations, and the congress plan appears to be Moscow's attempt to force the pace in a bid for a political settlement.
On the economic front, the Iranian, Russian, and Azerbaijani leaders agreed on November 1 to increase cooperation in the oil and gas industry, including in production as well as oil and oil-products swaps, the joint statement said.
Railway And Road Projects
Rohani, Putin, and Azerbaijani President llham Aliyev also discussed railway and road projects.
During Putin's visit, Russia’s state-owned Rosneft oil firm and the National Iranian Oil Company signed a road-map deal to develop joint projects in Iran worth up to $30 billion, Russian news agencies reported.
Rosneft head Igor Sechin was quoted as saying that the two sides were looking to seal binding deals within a year to work on a "whole series of fields, oil, and gas."
Moscow and Tehran have had close political and economic relations. Russia has aided Iran's nuclear energy program, making a major contribution to the construction of its first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr, where Moscow is now helping build two more reactors.
Putin made previous trips to Iran in November 2015 and in 2007.
Aliyev hosted a similar three-way meeting in August 2016. The next such summit is to be held in Russia next year.
With reporting by Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP, Interfax, and TASS