Putin confirms Iran trip despite possible assassination plot

WIESBADEN, Germany &

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted today he would travel to Iran despite reports about a possible assassination attempt, arguing direct contact and "peaceful means" were the only way to deal with the country's nuclear program.

Russia's Interfax news agency, citing a source in Russia's special services, said Sunday that suicide terrorists had been trained to carry out the assassination in Iran. The Kremlin said Putin was informed about the threat.

"Of course I am going to Iran," Putin told reporters at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel following talks in Wiesbaden, southwest Germany. "If I always listened to all the various threats and the recommendations of the special services I would never leave home."

Putin said the trip was a chance to support direct dealings with Iran &

which has no diplomatic relations with the United States &

and cited North Korea, which recently agreed to take its nuclear reactor out of service, as an example of the results achievable by diplomacy.

"We were patient and consistently looked for solutions and it looks like we are finding them. The same has to be applied, we believe, in the case of the Iranian nuclear program," Putin said.

"We can and must be patient and look for a way out. Can we do it without having a dialogue with the Iranian leadership and people? I think it's impossible, unlikely."

Putin underlined that Russia planned to work with Europe and the United States, which are also stressing negotiation despite recurring speculation about a potential U.S. strike against Iran. Washington is pushing for a third, tougher round of sanctions against Tehran for refusing to give up its program to enrich uranium, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes but the U.S. says is preparation for making weapons.

"As we have said, we fully expect that he will convey the concerns shared by all of us about the failure of Iran to comply with the international community's requirements concerning its nuclear program," Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said in Washington.

Putin's trip will be scrutinized for changes in Russia's complex position on Iran. Russia has been skeptical of more sanctions in the United Nations Security Council and is building Iran's first nuclear reactor.

But Moscow has delayed completion and urged Tehran to comply with international controls on its program. An announcement by Putin during his visit that it would be finished quickly would be seen as a gesture toward the Iranians.

During his visit to Iran, Putin is to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and attend Tuesday's summit of Caspian Sea nations. He is the first Kremlin leader to travel to Iran since Josef Stalin attended the 1943 wartime summit with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Putin's trip would be important for Iran even if it yielded no agreements. "It's a break in international isolation, a chance to show that Iran is an important country," said Alexander Pikayev, a leading expert on Iran with Russia's Institute for World Economy and International relations.

Iranian media also emphasized the importance of Putin's trip. Iran's state television said the visit would "show Russia's independence from the United States."

European Union nations failed to agree today on whether the bloc should apply more sanctions or other measures against Iran to get Tehran to meet international demands to halt its nuclear enrichment program.

A move by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to get the 27-nation EU to push ahead with more sanctions &

outside of the United Nations &

failed to get widespread support, diplomats said.

Highlighting a fresh division over how to get Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program, Javier Solana, the EU foreign and security affairs chief, told reporters: "It remains my mandate (from the UN) to continue working on the possibility of further sanctions. We are not thinking of sanctions right now."

Putin's statements came at the end of a distinctly chummy summit between him and Merkel, who has been more willing than predecessor Gerhard Schroeder to raise Russia's human rights record &

but largely skirted those issues in public at this meeting.

Putin touched on the sensitive topic of his future by saying the Russian constitution &

which requires him to leave office next year after two terms &

would be observed, although there is much speculation Putin will keep power in another capacity such as that of prime minister. He referred to Gordon Brown's succession as Britain's prime minister, replacing Tony Blair.

"One prime minister has left, another has come, a change of the head of executive power has occurred without an election," he said. "And clearly conditions have been created to make sure that the ruling party stays in power. There are other similar examples."

"In Russia not only the letter but the spirit of the constitution are going to be observed," he said. "It does not mean at all that those who are in power today cannot take part in the life of their own country."


Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov, Nasser Karimi and Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran; Melissa Eddy in Wiesbaden, Germany; and Constant Brand in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

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