Iran, Russia Boost Ties

Top leaders travel to Moscow, Tehran for talks on key issues

Sergei Lavrov / AP
December 11, 2013

Senior Iranian and Russian officials traveled to each other’s countries this week for a series of high-level meetings on issues ranging from Tehran’s nuclear ambitions to Moscow’s goal of promoting "eye-catching growth" in Iran, according to officials from both countries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was scheduled to land in Tehran on Wednesday for a two-day-long meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, who recently led Iran’s nuclear negotiations with Western nations in Geneva.

The leaders are expected to discuss greater trade relations, Tehran’s involvement in shaping Syria’s future, and the Iranian nuclear program, which is scheduled to be expanded in upcoming months with Moscow’s help. Lavrov will also meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

As Lavrov is entertained in Tehran, the newly installed Iranian ambassador to Russia was hosted in Moscow for a Monday meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.

Iran and Russia tightened their diplomatic alliance as Secretary of State John Kerry took to Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon to sell lawmakers on the need to hold off on passing new economic sanctions on Tehran.

Iran announced new military achievements just hours before Lavrov’s scheduled arrival and promised to launch a new rocket into space by the end of next week.

Lavrov and Zarif will likely focus their talks on the recently announced nuclear accord meant to partially freeze Tehran’s contested uranium enrichment program for a period of six months.

Russia played a key role in helping push through the interim deal, which would provide Tehran somewhere near $7 billion in sanctions relief in exchange for a partial freeze of its enrichment program. Iran will likely be allowed to continue some form of enrichment under a final agreement.

Lavrov made clear to the Russian press that he is not in Tehran as a representative of the P5+1, according to Russian media reports.

Iran's Zarif insisted during a press conference that Russia make good on a promise to provide Tehran with an advanced S-300 weapons system.

"We still insist on the fulfillment of our previous agreements," Zarif said in response to a question about Russia's cancellation of the deal, according to a translation of a report in Russia's Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper.

Lavrov’s trip to Iran is based on "friendship and neighborliness," Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

"Russian-Iranian relations based on the principles of friendship and neighborliness are not subjected to fleeting political changes," Moscow said in a statement published by Voice of Russia.

"The political dialogue between the leadership of our countries is maintained on a regular basis and in recent times has been marked by high intensity," the statement said.

The Russian side added that it is "determined to consistently develop mutually beneficial ties with Iran" and keep-up talks in key international issues.

Iranian officials also expressed excitement and optimism about Lavrov’s visit.

Iran’s Foreign Minister spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as telling reporters that the trip is  "in line with the close cooperation between Tehran and Moscow."

"Bilateral, regional, and international issues" will all be on the table, according to Afkham.

While the Lavrov-Zarif nuclear agenda is not entirely clear at this point, the leaders could elaborate on a recently signed agreement that commits Russia to build several new nuclear plants in Iran by as early as 2014.

Iran announced its plans to build at least two more atomic reactors just days after it inked the nuclear deal.

Russian and Iranian officials in Moscow also championed their close ties on Monday.

Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanaei "praised the high level of Iran-Russia political relations" in a Monday meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, who said that Lavrov’s trip to Tehran would "enhance the cooperation between the two countries," according to reports in Iran’s state-run media.

The issue of Syria’s civil war and Iran’s role in brokering a ceasefire will also top the agenda in Tehran.

Russia believes that Iran should have a seat at the table in an upcoming Syrian peace convention to be held in Geneva.

Western nations have balked at this request, citing Iran’s continued interference in Syria and its blatant support for fighters affiliated with embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who considers himself one of Tehran’s top allies.

However, Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated that it considers Tehran one of the "influential states of the region" and that it should be part of Syria’s future, Iran’s Fars News reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to unveil new weaponry and unmanned drones, including one that is powered by a domestically produced jet engine, according to Fars.

Iran also is scheduled to continue its exploration of space next week when it launches a rocket some 75 miles into the atmosphere.

Iran’s space program is believed to be a cover for an advanced ballistic weapons research program that is aimed at giving Tehran the ability to launch missiles over long distances.

Ballistic missiles of this sort traditionally are armed to carry a nuclear payload.