Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Russia’s Black Sea resort town of Sochi on September 13 where he was expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Zarif’s talks with the Russian leadership would focus on the conflict in Syria as well as “the Middle East in general, issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, and the situation in Iraq and the Persian Gulf region.”
Zarif has not visited Russia since April, but high level Iranian officials have had frequent meetings with their Russian counterparts in Tehran and Moscow.
The meeting comes a day before the start of a sixth round of Syria peace talks in Astana that are sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey – negotiations that are separate from United Nations-sponsored talks in Geneva.
Experts from Russia, Turkey, and Iran arrived in Astana ahead of the two-day talks and were holding consultations there on September 13.
Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, and a Syrian government delegation also arrived in Kazakhstan’s capital on September 13 for the Astana talks, which will include representatives of some Syrian opposition groups and an observer mission from the United States.
The U.S. delegation is headed by David Satterfield, the U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
The U.S. State Department said Satterfield would “reinforce U.S. support for all efforts to achieve a sustainable de-escalation of violence and provision of unhindered humanitarian aid.”
But it said Washington “remains concerned with Iran’s involvement as a so-called ‘guarantor’ of the Astana process.”
It says Iran’s “activities in Syria and unquestioning support” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government “have perpetuated the conflict and increased the suffering of ordinary Syrians.”
In recent weeks, Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concern about Iran's presence in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Russia six times since 2014 and held talk with President Vladimir Putin and other Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov regarding Syria.
According to Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry, meeting is expected to focus on how to regulate the operations of "de-escalation forces in Syria and formation of the control forces in Idlib" - a Syrian province bordering Turkey.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 10 that Moscow hopes agreements on a fourth de-escalation zone in Syria near the city of Idlib will be formalized at the meeting.
Russia media reports have quote senior Russian military officials as saying that Moscow wants Russian military police units to be deployed in Idlib to monitor a cease-fire.