MOSCOW, Dec 7 (Reuters) – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accused the West on Thursday of supporting “genocide” by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza, at the start of talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin.
As part of a burst of meetings focused on the Middle East, Putin greeted Raisi in the Kremlin a day after visiting the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where he discussed the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and efforts by Russia and OPEC to boost oil prices.
In televised opening remarks, neither leader referred to their countries’ growing military cooperation – a source of concern to the United States, which says Iran is supplying Russia with weapons to use against Ukraine.
Putin said it was very important to discuss the situation in the Middle East, especially in the Palestinian territories.
Raisi responded via a translator: “What is happening in Palestine and Gaza is of course genocide and a crime against humanity.” He said it was “even more sad” that this was supported by the United States and the West.
Iran backs the Palestinian militant group Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza, in its war with Israel. Russia has relations with all the key players in the region including Hamas and Israel, which it angered by hosting a Hamas delegation in Moscow in October.
Analysts say the conflict has helped Russia by distracting world attention from the war in Ukraine and enabling Moscow to align itself with developing countries in solidarity with the Palestinians.
Putin has said the sight of suffering and bloodied children in Gaza makes “tears come to your eyes”, but Western governments say such comments are hypocritical when Putin’s forces have killed thousands of civilians in Ukraine.
Russia and Arab countries say the West is showing double standards by supporting Israel’s bombing and siege of Gaza while accusing Russia of war crimes.
Israel has previously said allegations of genocide are deplorable and that its actions target Hamas, not civilians.
Like North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un met Putin in Russia’s far east in September, Iran is an avowed enemy of the U.S. and can provide Moscow with military hardware for its war in Ukraine, where Russia has made extensive use of Iranian drones.
The Kremlin last month said Russia and Iran were developing relations, “including in the field of military-technical cooperation”, but declined to comment on a suggestion by the White House that Iran may be considering providing Russia with ballistic missiles.
White House spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday described the burgeoning defence relationship as “worrisome”.
Iranian authorities have said military cooperation with Russia is expanding day by day.
Iran said last month it had finalised arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was present at Thursday’s meeting, as was Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, Putin’s point man on oil.
(Reporting by Reuters; writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)