Tehran: Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday arrived in Tehran for meeting with leaders of regional heavyweights, days after US President Joe Biden wrapped up a trip to Iranian foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In only his second trip abroad since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February, Putin met Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on pressing issues facing the region, including the conflict in Syria and a U.N.-backed proposal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain to ease the global food crisis.
As the West heaps sanctions on Russia and the costly campaign drags on, Putin is seeking to bolster ties with Tehran, a fellow target of severe U.S. sanctions and a potential military and trade partner. In recent weeks, Russian officials visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice to review Iran made weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine, the White House has alleged.
"I am very pleased to be on the hospitable Iranian soil...We can boast about record figures in terms of trade growth," said Putin in a bilateral meeting with Raisi. "We are strengthening our cooperation on international security issues, making a significant contribution to the settlement of the Syrian conflict."
Raisi also hailed a "significant" commitment to security cooperation between the two countries, saying the two countries had "good experience" in fighting terrorism.
Also on Tuesday, Iran's national oil company signed a $40 billion agreement with Russia's state-run gas company Gazprom. The deal includes development of Iranian gas fields and building new gas export pipelines.
In a separate meeting with Raisi, Putin said that Iranian-Russian relations "are developing at a good pace." The Russian leader said Moscow and Tehran will "strengthen their cooperation on international security and contribute significantly to the Syrian settlement."
In his fifth visit to Tehran, Russian President also called on Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with whom he has a "trusting dialogue," according to Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign affairs advisor.
Iran leader described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as "dangerous," in his meeting with Putin and said that the US-led military alliance knows no boundaries and had to be stopped in Ukraine or it would have eventually started war using Crimea as a pretext.
"War is a harsh and difficult reality, and the Islamic Republic will in no way be happy if it entangles ordinary people," the Leader said.
"In the case of Ukraine, however, if you had not taken the initiative, the opposite side would have caused [the outbreak] of war with its own initiative," Ayatollah added, addressing the Russian president.
He said Putin had ensured Russia "maintained its independence" from the United States and that countries should start using their own national currencies when trading goods.
"The U.S. dollar should be gradually taken off global trade, and this can be done gradually," Supreme Leader said during the meeting, in a spartan white room with an Iranian flag and a portrait of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khamenei said Iran and Russia must maintain their vigilance in the face of the West's deceptive policies.
For his part, the Russian president addressed the situation in Ukraine, saying, "No one is in favor of war," adding, "The loss of ordinary people's lives is a great tragedy."
"However, the West's behavior has left us with no other option than to react," the Russian head of state said.
Putin considered his country's rifts with Ukraine to be rooted especially in the provocative measures that have been taken by the West, including the United States, over the past recent years, including the coup in Ukraine, which brought a Western-backed government to power there.
He also cited NATO's expansion toward Russia's borders in spite of its earlier promises to avoid such a move to be another source of difference between Moscow and Kiev.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Putin said the West's sanctions against Russia were to its own detriment, causing such problems as rising oil prices and food crises.
Tehran trilateral summit has symbolic meaning for Putin's domestic audience as well, showing off Russia's international clout even as it plunges deeper into confrontation with the West.
Putin's Tehran visit comes just days after US President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia -- Iran's regional foes. From Israel and Saudi Arabia, Biden urged Israel and Arab countries to push back on Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence that has expanded with the perception of America's retreat from the region.
Putin called Tehran summit "truly useful and rather substantial," describing the atmosphere as "businesslike and constructive." He also invited Raisi and Erdogan to visit Russia for a follow-up meeting "before the end of the year."
Earlier Iran and Turkey signed a raft of preliminary agreements covering investment, diplomacy, media and business, among other fields, and pledged to triple bilateral trade, to $30 billion. Raisi praised Erdogan's visit as a "turning point" in their relations.
Putin also held a face-to-face meeting separately with Erdogan in Tehran, and thanked him for efforts to "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 added.
Erdogan praised what he described as Russia's "very, very positive approach" during last week's grain talks in Istanbul. He voiced hope a deal will be made, and "the result that will emerge will have a positive impact on the whole world."
Putin also said there were "a lot of questions" on war-torn Syria that needed to be addressed.