Iran’s supreme leader voiced strong backing for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine, accusing Western countries of opposing an “independent and strong” Russia.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that if Russia hadn’t sent troops into Ukraine, it would have faced an attack from NATO later, a statement that echoed the rhetoric that Putin used before sending Russian forces into Ukraine on February 24.
Khamenei, who met with Putin after he arrived in Tehran on July 19, also called for strengthening long-term cooperation with Russia, according to a statement on his official website.
“There are numerous memorandums of understanding and contracts between the two countries, including in the oil and gas sector, which must be followed up and implemented fully,” Khamenei added.
He said world events showed the need for ever-increasing mutual cooperation between the two countries, “especially in the wake of Western sanctions,” the statement said.
The White House said Putin’s trip to Tehran, his first beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union since the invasion of Ukraine began, showed how isolated Russia has become.
John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, also told reporters that there is no indication yet that Iran has given drones to Russia.
The United States last week said it had information showing that Iran is preparing to provide several hundred drones, including some that are weapons capable, and train Russian forces to use them. Iran’s foreign minister denied the U.S. claim.
Putin also met with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts, Ebrahim Raisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while in Tehran.
He thanked Erdogan for his mediation to help “move forward” a deal on Ukrainian grain exports.
“Not all the issues have been resolved yet, but it’s good that there has been some progress,” Putin said ahead of his one-on-one meeting with Erdogan.
He said afterward that he and Erdogan discussed the export of Ukrainian and Russian grain as well as food security, but he provided no further details.
The Turkish leader praised what he described as Russia’s “very, very positive approach” during four-way talks last week in Istanbul between representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations. He voiced hope a deal will be made, and “the result that will emerge will have a positive impact on the whole world.”
The negotiations in Istanbul reportedly came close to a deal to allow shipments of grain to begin moving through Ukraine’s blocked Black Sea ports.
Russian and Ukrainian negotiators are scheduled to meet with UN and Turkish diplomats again on July 20 in Istanbul to discuss the possible agreement.
The negotiators hope the solution will resolve an impasse over grain exports that has helped send global food prices soaring and raised concerns about hunger among people in Africa and the Middle East who depend on shipments of Ukrainian grain.
Three-way talks held later between Putin, Raisi, and Erdogan focused on the conflict in Syria in which Turkey is on the opposite side of Russia.
Putin said he and Raisi and Erdogan adopted a joint declaration, pledging to strengthen cooperation in the interests of the “normalization” of the situation in Syria.
Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia have been in opposing camps not just in the conflict in Syria but also in conflicts in Azerbaijan and Libya.
But Ankara hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine, making it a much-needed partner for Moscow.
A Putin adviser said earlier that the discussions on the conflict in Syria would encourage a political settlement despite Turkey’s threat of a new military offensive in northern Syria to drive away U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from its borders.
Erdogan has said that Turkey plans to launch a cross-border operation against the YPG.
During Erdogan’s meeting with Khamenei, the supreme leader warned against a military attack, saying that would harm Turkey, Syria, and the entire region. He stressed the need to “bring the issue to an end through talks.”