Russian, Iranian leaders meet in bid to mend historic rift
The presidents of Russia and Iran will meet in the Azerbaijani capital Baku Thursday hoping to mend an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the two traditional allies.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be among the leaders of five states littoral to the Caspian Sea meeting to address overlapping claims to the sea's vast energy riches.
But bilateral talks between Medvedev and Ahmadinejad scheduled for Thursday afternoon are sure to overshadow a summit that in previous meetings has ended with little progress.
The Kremlin Wednesday confirmed that the highly anticipated bilateral meeting would take place on the sidelines of the summit.
A source in the Russian delegation said Medvedev understood the importance of the meeting with Ahmadinejad.
"We believe one needs to conduct negotiations, needs to talk, to try to convince," the source said.
Analysts have billed the meeting as a last chance to repair relations that were Tehran's most significant alliance with a major world power before the current crisis.
Russian-Iranian tensions came to the boil this September when Moscow -- after repeated delays -- officially dropped plans to supply Tehran with high-precision S-300 missiles and a batch of other sensitive arms.
Iran did little to hide its displeasure with Russia's reversal. Ahmadinejad this month accused Russia of falling "under the influence of Satan (the United States)" and selling out "to our enemies."
Russia has already backed a series of United Nations sanctions resolutions against the Islamic nation and Medvedev himself has voiced a growing sense of frustration with the persistent nuclear ambitions of Tehran.
"We are convinced that under the sanctions it is necessary to look for new incentives which will ensure greater cooperativity, constant cooperation with Iran including on nuclear issues and dialogue with it," Medvedev's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said ahead of the meeting.
"The sanctions do not cover the entire volume and complex of ties with Iran. A significant part of cooperation does not fall and will not fall under the sanctions," he added.
The Caspian summit itself -- the third gathering of nations that also includes Azerbaijan and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- was unlikely to make much progress on its most important dispute: how to split up the sea.
Iran insists on dividing the Caspian into five equal portions while the Azerbaijanis are angling for access that corresponds to each country's coastline.
© 2010 AFP