Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has landed in Moscow for a two-day official visit during which the two countries will seek to strengthen their ties. The visit gains additional significance amid Washington's waning influence in the Middle East with other major powers attempting to capitalise on the power vacuum.
Rouhani, who is visiting at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is leading a high-level delegation. On his agenda are issues of mutual interest and the Middle East.
An official welcome ceremony led by Putin is scheduled on Tuesday, 28 March, following which the two leaders will hold freewheeling talks. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will also hold separate discussions with Rouhani and several agreements are expected to be signed. Officially, matters relating to diplomatic, judicial and economic sectors are to be finalised during the visit.
This is likely to be Rouhani's last major overseas trip since he faces a re-election in May. It is his ninth meeting with Putin during his four-year term. "Relations between Iran and Russia and any growth in these ties will be beneficial to both nations and regional stability and we enjoy good cooperation with each other at international level," said Rouhani shortly before his departure from Tehran. He added that bilateral cooperation between Russia and Iran has "never been and will never be against any third country".
Rouhani added: "In recent years our relations have entered the fourth stage of their development, which is marked by the proximity of the positions of the parties on a number of key international issues. Reaching the agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme and its implementation became a good example of such cooperation. Russia provided significant assistance to the solution of this issue."
Iran, the regional heavyweight, has been a key partner in Russia's involvement in the Middle East on various issues including Moscow's assault on Syrian rebels. Though the two countries have never been traditional allies, their cooperation has been constantly growing in recent years with cautious moves from both sides.
Ever since the US-engineered sanctions imposed due to Tehran's nuclear programme began to ease in 2015, Russia has been keen on boosting economic cooperation with Iran.