Russia Iran Pledge to Boost Military Ties

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia and Iran pledged to boost military cooperation and expressed concern at US involvement in their backyards–officials involved in talks in Tehran and Moscow were quoted as saying on Friday.

Intensified military cooperation between Russia and Iran is viewed with deep suspicion by the United States.

Washington has criticized an agreement for Moscow to help construct a nuclear power station at Bushehr–saying Tehran is using the deal secretly to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran’s ambassador to Moscow said last month that the Bushehr station’s first reactor was on course for completion in 2002 and talks were under way to build the second of four such units.

Itar-Tass news agency–in a report from the Iranian capital–quoted Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov as saying military officials from the two countries had agreed on Friday to hold regular consultations. It was the first such Russian delegation to visit the country since 1991–the agency said.

"We managed to find common interests–pinpoint a common threat to the security of our states and determine ways of neutralizing it," Ivashov–head of the Defense Ministry’s international relations department–told Tass. The agency said the two countries had expressed concern at "attempts by the United States and NATO to exert pressure on conflicts in the Transcaucasus region and to draw former Soviet republics into the military alliance."

Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing satisfaction at the "high level of cooperation" during talks held earlier this week in Moscow by Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi.

It said the two countries’ positions "on the majority of issues either coincided or were close to each other."

Both sides expressed concern at developmen’s in Afghanistan–particularly the policy of the ruling Taleban movement "supporting international terrorism and drug smuggling." They called for coordinated action in reaching a settlement between the Taleban and insurgents in the north.

A Russian Deputy Foreign Minister–Alexander Losyukov–told Interfax news agency that both sides hoped to stage a meeting between presidents Vladimir Putin and Mohammad Khatami by next year.

Losyukov–speaking at an exhibition marking "five centuries of relations between Russia and Iran" said the two countries "have many common interests at regional and international level."

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