Russian President Vladimir Putin to Travel to Iran Despite Assassination Plot

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Monday that he would travel to Tehran, despite reports about a possible assassination attempt.

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

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.

Putin said the trip, due to start later Monday, had been long-planned and added briefly that he would hold talks with Iranian leaders regarding Tehran's disputed nuclear program — although he stressed the original purpose of the trip was to discuss issues affecting states bordering on the Caspian Sea.

He underlined the need to solve the nuclear problem "through peaceful measures," adding that it was important to make "direct contact" with Tehran whenever the chance presented itself.

Putin's trip will be scrutinized for changes in Russia's position on how to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. Russia has been skeptical of a push by the United States for a third, tougher set of sanctions in the U.N. 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.

The announcement came at the end of a distinctly chummy summit between Putin and Merkel, who is more willing than predecessor Gerhard Schroeder to raise Russia's human rights record but largely skirted those issues at this meeting. "Our strategic partnership is full of life," she said, and praised a two-day German-Russian forum taking place alongside the summit meeting.

"I share the chancellor's assessment," said Putin.

The two held private discussions on Sunday night at a restaurant miles from the forum, and have not provided details on what they said other than to note they talked about Iran and the resolution over the status of the U.N.-administered Serbian province of Kosovo.

Russia supports its ally Serbia in resisting independence for the largely ethnic Albanian province, an option favored by the United States and most western European governments.

The two leaders had an easygoing exchange at the forum's public closing session on Monday, where the only hints of friction were Merkel's reminder of the need for strong civil societies, and where Putin called for more educational exchanges so Germans "would not get a biased and politicized view of our country."

Putin made a glancing reference to speculation he may remain Russia's top leader, perhaps as prime minister instead of as president after his second and final term permitted by the constitution ends next year.

"I am convinced that the continuity of cooperation between Russia and Germany will not change," he said, quickly adding, "with new people in power."