Rouhani, Putin laud co-operation in Syria civil war
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani thanked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Sunday for the two countries' co-operation to bolster Syria's government in that country's brutal civil war.
The two leaders discussed Syria in person for the first time since Israel requested that Russia keep Iranian forces well clear of its northern border, the culmination of more than a year of intensive lobbying of Moscow by Israeli leaders.
At a summit in Kazakhstan, Rouhani told Putin that co-operation between the two powers had yielded "positive results" including in Syria, according to Tasnim news agency.
“Bilateral and multilateral cooperation of Iran and Russia in different regional and international matters, including regional security and fighting terrorism and [Islamic State] in Syria have had positive regional effects and this cooperation should continue until the full eradication of terrorism,” the Iranian leader was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.
"Our common goal is to establish stability and peace in the whole region and provide security for the region’s countries," the Iranian leader was further quoted as saying by a Kremlin account.
"The world has witnessed how, with the help from Iran and Russia, the Syrian army was able to play a vital role in fighting terrorism in Syria."
Putin also lauded Russian-Iranian co-operation, according to the Kremlin, and said he looked forward to informing his counterpart about "the progress of our contacts with our partners on this complicated problem."
"There is much cooperation between our countries. We have many issues to address regarding the world’s acute crises, including that in Syria," he said before closed-door talks with Rouhani.
Since launching a military intervention backing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in 2015, Russia has become a powerful player in the Middle East, forming strategic partnerships also with Iran and Turkey.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made frequent trips to Moscow in order to clinch Russia's co-operation with Jerusalem's efforts to eradicate or curtail Iran's military influence in Syria.
The issue has become a top security concern for Israel, particularly after a series of military confrontations with Iranian forces in Syria this year, including Iran's firing of rockets at Israel's Golan Heights.
In late July Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a bevvy of top military officials made a flying visit to Israel for talks on Syria.
While stating that Israel's long-term goal is to oust Iran from Syria permanently, a diplomatic source said at the time that Israel asked the Russians to help them pursue a "short-term" goal of keeping Iranian forces at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
The results from the meeting have been inconclusive.
Just a week later, Russia’s Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov said that Iran is playing a “very important role” in Syria and that while Moscow can try to convince Iranian forces to leave the country, it cannot force them to do so.
“We think that demands to remove the foreign fighters from Syrian territory are not realistic," he told Israel's Channel 10. "The Iranian presence in Syria is totally legitimate according to the decision of the United Nations,” he added, saying Iran was “invited” by the Syrian regime.
Viktorov said Russia can “try to convince [Iran] to do something or not do something, but we cannot force them [to do anything].”
Rouhani and Putin were meeting at a summit in the Kazakh city of Aktau, where all five states bordering the Caspian Sea signed a landmark deal on its legal status, easing regional tensions and potentially facilitating lucrative oil and gas projects.
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