x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

Russia foreign minister to visit Iran ahead of Moscow nuclear talks

Sergei Lavrov will be in Tehran on Wednesday to discuss Iran's nuclear programme as well as the Syria crisis.

MOSCOW // Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister will visit Iran on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming Moscow talks on Tehran's nuclear programme as well as the Syria crisis, his ministry said.

"The focus of attention ... will be on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, with the emphasis on the current transformation processes taking place in the Arab world and Syria," new agencies quoted a foreign ministry official today.

Russia has proposed holding an international conference on Syria aimed at saving mediator Kofi Annan's tattered peace plan for a 15-month conflict that observers say has claimed more than 13,500 lives.

Mr Lavrov has pressed for Iran's inclusion despite strong reservations from the United States, France and Britain.

"Without Iran's involvement, the opportunity to exert constructive pressure on Syria will not be implemented in full," the foreign ministry said.

On June 18-19, Moscow will stage the third round of thus far unproductive negotiations between top world powers and Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.

The meeting will take place just two weeks before the European Union imposes a full embargo on Iranian oil — a measure aimed at crippling the government's economy and forcing it to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

Russia and Iran enjoy close commercial and military ties that have made Moscow into an influential voice in the negotiations.

But the Kremlin has recently expressed its worry that Iran may be pursuing the development of a nuclear bomb that could destabilise the region and prompt military strikes from either Israel or the US.

The ministry said Mr Lavrov would devote "particular attention to preparations" for the Moscow meeting but gave no other details.

Mr Lavrov's visit comes one week after President Vladimir Putin met his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional summit in Beijing where he defended Tehran's right to a "peaceful" nuclear programme.

"But I want to emphasise that it is peaceful that we are talking about. You know our position," Mr Putin told Mr Ahmadinejad in Beijing.