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Putin Warns Against Use of Force on Landmark Visit to Iran


On a landmark visit to Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned against the use of military force in the Caspian region. The Russian leader was in Tehran for a summit of the five Caspian Sea nations. It was the first time a Kremlin chief has visited Iran since World War II. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough reports from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

Speaking in Tehran, President Putin said no Caspian nation should let its territory be used to attack another Caspian state. The leaders of all five countries bordering the Caspian Sea - Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan - signed onto that principle in the summit's closing declaration.

The statement is seen as a reference to rumors that the United States is considering cooperating with a Caspian nation to launch a military action against Iran, because of its nuclear program. The rumors have focused on Azerbaijan.

The summit declaration included a statement of support for Iran's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

Mr. Putin said Russia is the only country that is helping Iran with its nuclear program which the Russian leader said is for peaceful uses. He added that the summit declaration refers to the commitment by all five Caspian nations to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This is the first time a Kremlin chief has visited Iran since 1943, when Soviet leader Josef Stalin attended a wartime summit.

Mr. Putin's trip is being watched closely for signs of movement in the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West. After the summit, the Iranian and Russian leaders went into direct talks focusing on the nuclear issue.

Russia and the West are at odds over how best to handle the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Western nations have been pushing for more sanctions, and the United States has refused to rule out the use of military force. Russia favors dialogue with Tehran and continued diplomacy.

The United States and the European Union believe Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb. Iran says its goal is producing nuclear energy.

Mr. Putin went to Tehran despite a warning from his own security services of a possible plot to assassinate him there. Iranian officials have dismissed the reports as disinformation aimed at straining their relations.

President Ahmadinejad emphasized the need to keep outside nations out of the Caspian region.

He called the summit a huge leap forward, and a strong response by the Caspian Sea states. He said the summit delivered a message to countries that are thinking of either undermining these countries or weakening their friendly relations.

Although the leaders reached agreement on Iran's nuclear program and mutual non-aggression, they did not solve the thorny issue of dividing the Caspian' Sea's rich resources. The Caspian is believed to contain the world's third-largest energy reserves.

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