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Putin in Iran for trilateral talks

July 19, 2022

The meeting between the leaders of the three regional powers Russia, Iran and Turkey aims at bolstering their relations. The summit comes shortly after Russian gas giant Gazprom announced a cooperation deal with Tehran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi
Russia is seeking to bolster its influence in the region despite previous tensions with Turkey and IranImage: Sergei Sovostyanov/AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Tehran on Tuesday for talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts on key issues affecting the region.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the ongoing conflict in Syria as well as the UN-backed proposal to allow for grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports.

Putin said the talks were "truly useful and rather substantial" and said that the leaders had adopted a joint declaration, pledging to bolster cooperation in terms of the situation in Syria.

Putin also called for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, stressing the importance of preserving it.

"We consider it important to continue efforts to preserve the nuclear deal and to create conditions for its renewed sustainable realization on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2231," Putin said following the talks.

Putin thanks Turkey over grain exports mediation

In bilateral discussions with Turkey, Putin expressed thanks for Ankara's mediation efforts on the grain exports, which have been stuck at Ukrainian ports, due to Russia's ongoing invasion.

"Not all the issues have been resolved yet, but it's good that there has been some progress," Putin said.

The three regional powers have a complex relationship of shared interests and conflicts. The talks mark Putin's second trip outside of Russia since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and the first face-to-face meeting with a NATO member leader.

The talks also come days after US President Joe Biden visited Washington's key allies in the region — Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as the Palestinian Territories.

Grain exports on the agenda

One of the main items on the official agenda was resuming grain exports in the Black Sea. the United Nations says the war's disruption of exports is leading to an "unprecedented" food crisis in Africa.

Erdogan praised Russia's "very, very positive approach" during last week's grain talks in Istanbul and expressed optimism that a deal will be made, and "the result that will emerge will have a positive impact on the whole world.''

Russia called on the West to make certain concessions.

 "We will facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain, but we are proceeding from the fact that all restrictions related to air deliveries for the export of Russian grain will be lifted," Putin told reporters after the meeting

The Russian president pointed to the US easing sanctions on his country's fertilizer exports last week.

"If they sincerely want to improve the situation on the international food markets, I hope the same will happen with the supply of Russian grain for export," Putin added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed by his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi at the Saadabad palace in Tehran
Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey have clashed over competing attempts to influence the conflict in SyriaImage: Vahid Salemi/AP/dpa

Turkey's role at the summit

Ahead of the trilateral talks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Erdogan against further aggression in Syria. Both Iran and Russia support President Bashar Assad's regime, while Turkey has thrown its weight behind certain anti-Assadist groups.

"Maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria is very important, and any military attack in northern Syria will definitely harm Turkey, Syria and the entire region, and benefit terrorists," Khamenei told Erdogan.

Turkey has threatened to launch a military operation into northern Syria, particularly regions controlled by Kurdish groups, to extend a so-called "safe zone."

Speaking at the opening of the summit on Tuesday, Erdogan pushed for backing from Russia and Iran in Turkey's fight against "terrorism" in Syria. During an earlier press conference, Erdogan spoke of Kurdish militias causing "great trouble" for Iran and Turkey.

Ankara has also found itself on the opposite side of Moscow in conflicts in Azerbaijan and Libya, and has even sold drones to Ukraine. But its role as a NATO member that has not imposed sanctions, makes Turkey a much-needed partner for Russia. 

Erdogan has also proven to be a thorn in the side of NATO's plan to quickly accept Sweden and Finland into the alliance.

Iran and Russia's competition and cooperation

Iran and Russia now find themselves in the same boat in the face of severe economic sanctions that have already taken a large toll on Iran.

Yet the two are also economic competitors as key oil and gas exporters. This became even clearer after Russia pivoted its export focus to China following the western sanctions. China has been a key market for Iranian energy.

At the same time, Iran is also facing an increasingly united regional bloc consisting of the Sunni Arab Gulf states and Israel whose almost only shared interest is in countering Iran's influence and advancing nuclear program.

Iran is likely hoping to pressure the US into accepting concessions to revive the 2015 nuclear deal thanks to the rising price of energy that was made moot by Washington's unilateral withdrawal under the Trump regime in 2018. Subsequent sanctions have crippled Iran's economy.

However, on Tuesday, shortly ahead of Putin's arrival, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Russian state-run gas giant Gazprom signed an agreement worth $40 billion (€39 billion) to seek out options for cooperation.

zc,kb,ab/nm, jsi (AP, Reuters)