MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin called Monday for a political settlement to Syria’s four-year-old conflict as he sought to strengthen ties with Iran, one of Russia’s crucial and few remaining allies in the Middle East.
Speaking at a news conference in Tehran during a gathering of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Putin also chided the West, saying, “No one outside Syria can and should impose on its people some form of government and who personally must govern it. This should only be decided by the Syrian people.”
He added, “The Syrian crisis must and will be resolved politically.”
His remarks were broadcast on Russian state television.
In his first visit to Iran since 2007, Putin met for more than 90 minutes with the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a key ally who has provided muscle on the ground to augment Russian air power in Moscow’s nearly two-month-old intervention in the Syrian civil war.
That intervention assumed new importance after a wave of terrorist attacks against the West and Russia claimed by the Islamic State militant group, including the Nov. 13 massacre in Paris and the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Russia has since pushed for an anti-terrorism alliance with France and other Western countries, including the United States.
But Russia and the West remain at loggerheads over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The West wants him to step down, while Russia and Iran have provided him diplomatic and, increasingly, military cover.
In his meeting with Putin, Khamenei alleged there was a Western conspiracy that he said is dangerous to both Iran and Russia. “The Americans have a long-term plot and are trying to dominate Syria and then the whole region,” the ayatollah said, according to a transcript on his Web site.
Putin played a vital role in negotiating Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers in July. Under it, international sanctions against Iran will be lifted in exchange for limits on the country’s uranium-enrichment program.
Putin announced Monday that Russia would resume exporting nuclear technology to Iran. Russia has also contracted to supply Iran with S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.
In a sign of the growing security partnership between the two countries, Iran has allowed Russian missiles and strategic bombers in the past month to fly through its airspace en route to Syria.
On Monday, Syrian state media and a monitoring group said government troops backed by Russian airstrikes captured areas from the Islamic State in west-central Homs province, according to the Associated Press.
State television reported that troops backed by pro-government fighters captured the villages of Mheen and Hawareen, according to the AP. The gains help secure the highway linking the capital, Damascus, to the city of Homs.