Putin shrugs off 'death plot' reports to visit Iran

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The Independent Online

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has postponed his historic visit to Tehran by a day, the official Iranian news agency said last night, stating the first Kremlin leader to come since World War II would arrive today.

Putin had been expected in Tehran yesterday despite warnings of a possible assassination plot, and amid hopes that a round of personal diplomacy could help offer a solution to an international standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

"Putin will arrive in Tehran at the head of a delegation tomorrow morning," the official IRNA news agency quoted Iran's presidential press service as saying Monday. It gave no further details for the delayed arrival.

Kremlin officials did not immediately comment on the reasons for the postponement.

The Russian leader's trip had first been thrown into doubt when the Kremlin said on Sunday that Putin was informed about Russian special services' warning that suicide attackers could attempt to kill him during his visit to Tehran. The uncertainty increased when the Kremlin said it couldn't confirm Putin's arrival.

But Putin shrugged off the warnings on a trip to Germany and confirmed his intention to visit: "Of course I am going to Iran," he said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Wiesbaden, Germany. "If I always listened to all the various threats and the recommendations of the special services I would never leave home."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini dismissed reports about the assassination plot as disinformation spread by adversaries hoping to spoil Russian-Iranian relations.

Putin has given the US a blunt assessment of Iran's nuclear bid and insists peaceful dialogue is the only way to deal with it, warning against putting pressure in Iran.

"Threatening someone, in this case the Iranian leadership and Iranian people, will lead nowhere," Putin said in Germany before going to Iran. "They are not afraid, believe me."

Putin's visit to Tehran, the first such trip by a Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin attended the 1943 wartime summit with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, is closely watched for any possible shifts in the Kremlin's carefully hedged stance in the Iranian nuclear standoff.

Putin bluntly spelled out his disagreements with Washington, saying last week that he saw no "objective data" to prove Western claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear plant, has resisted the US push for stronger sanctions against Tehran and strongly warned Washington against using force.