by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) July 24, 2013
President Vladimir Putin is to visit Iran in August to try to restart talks on Tehran's controversial nuclear drive, a Russian newspaper reported Wednesday.
Putin's visit is planned for mid-August, shortly after Iran's moderate new president Hassan Rowhani takes office on August 3, Kommersant reported, citing sources in the Kremlin and the Iranian foreign ministry.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told AFP: "I cannot so far confirm this".
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi told the ISNA news agency: "I do not confirm the report regarding Putin's visit," which would be his first to Iran since 2007.
Moscow hopes the visit will provide impetus to restart the currently stalled talks on Iran's nuclear programme, Kommersant reported.
It cited a source in the Iranian foreign ministry as saying the trip would take place August 12-13. It said a Kremlin source confirmed the trip, but said it was not yet decided whether it would last one or two days.
Western governments have expressed cautious hopes for a change in tone in talks after the June election of Rowhani, a centrist cleric who has vowed to engage constructively with the international community in a bid to ease the burden of EU and US sanctions on Iran's economy.
Russia is a member of the so-called P5+1 group made up of the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany that has for years been engaged in talks with Iran to try to persuade it to curb sensitive nuclear activities.
After the last round in Almaty in April, the talks were put on hold as Iran prepared to choose a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmadinejad's eight-year term was marked by a defiant expansion of the Iranian nuclear programme, which fuelled Western suspicions that it masked a drive for a weapons capability.
Both the European Union and the United States slapped tough sanctions on Iran's key oil and banking sectors which have taken a heavy toll on the economy.
During his election campaign, Rowhani hit out at the "sloganising" of the Ahmadinejad regime, which he said had unnecessarily aggravated the sanctions, and promised a more conciliatory approach in a bid to get them eased.
Following Rowhani's election, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the West to consider relaxing the sanctions, saying Tehran was ready to make a major concession.
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