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Russia, Iran Plan To Expand Military Cooperation

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (file photo)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

Moscow and Tehran say they plan to expand military and economic cooperation after international sanctions against Iran are lifted under a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in Moscow on August 17 that both sides hope the agreement on Iran's nuclear program will enter into force "in the nearest weeks."

"There are all the opportunities today to bring Russian-Iranian relations to a new, more advanced level in the spirit of the agreements reached by the two presidents and taking into account those decisions that were made to resolve the situation around the Iranian nuclear program," Lavrov told a joint press conference after meeting Zarif.

The talks in Moscow come after Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in July on the sidelines of the seventh BRICS summit of emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Ufa, Russia, where they agreed to broaden cooperation in the event of a deal ending a weapons embargo and other sanctions on Iran.

Russian media reports say that among items Lavrov and Zarif discussed was the possible delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia to Iran.

The Kremlin said in April that Putin signed a decree ending a self-imposed ban since 2010 on selling the S-300 antimissile rocket system to Iran. The United States and Israel had previously lobbied Russia not to deliver the weapons system, saying it could be used to shield Iran's nuclear facilities from possible future air strikes.

Zarif said on August 17 that Iran attaches "huge significance" to relations with Russia and that the "the Vienna agreement is of great help to the development of relations between the two sides.

"We are confident that the Vienna agreement will have an enormous impact on developing ties between our two countries," Zarif said.

Russia is seen as eager to get a head start in what is expected to be an international race for lucrative contracts with Iran once sanctions are lifted. Of particular interest to Moscow is Iran's nuclear power sector.

Lavrov said on August 17 that a contract between Moscow and Tehran for the construction of eight nuclear units will strengthen Iran's power industry. Iranian and Russian officials announced in November that they had negotiated terms for the construction by Russia's state nuclear-power company Rosatom of four new reactors at Iran's existing, Russian-built Bushehr facility, and four more at another site in the country.

Lavrov and Zarif said they also discussed their joint initiative to broker a diplomatic resolution to Syria's civil war.

They reaffirmed that they both reject calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power.

"The Syrians must themselves decide their fate, their future, while foreign states should only make this easier," Zarif said. He said the only way to settle the Syrian crisis is political and that "we have a common view on this issue with the Russian Federation and this similarity of positions will continue."

The United States, the European Union, the Arab Persian Gulf states, and Syria’s moderate opposition have all rejected any peace plan that allows Assad to remain in power.

The nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers in Vienna on July 14 envisages a lifting of sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program, which Washington and others fear is aimed at a bomb-making capability.

The deal has yet to go into effect as it faces resistance in the U.S. Congress. U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to use his executive power if necessary to override legislators' efforts to oppose the accord.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in the country, has not publicly approved or disapproved the deal. However, he has repeatedly offered words of support for Iran's nuclear negotiators.

With reporting by Interfax, ITAR-TASS, and Reuters
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