MOSCOW/WIESBADEN, Germany (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin has been warned by his special services of a possible plot to assassinate him during a visit to Tehran this week, according to the Kremlin.
Putin, arriving in Germany on Sunday night for talks likely to cover tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, waved a hand dismissively when asked about an initial report of a plot on Russia’s Interfax news agency and told reporters “later”.
The President was due to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday morning and hold a news conference at around 1100 GMT.
Iran dismissed as baseless the Interfax report that suicide bombers were preparing an attack on the President. It described the allegation as “psychological warfare” calculated by Tehran’s enemies — an apparent reference to Western powers — to undermine Russian-Iranian relations.
Kremlin deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters he was unaware of any plans to cancel Putin’s visit.
Asked to comment on the Interfax report, Peskov said by telephone from Tehran: “The information is being dealt with by the secret services...The president has been informed.”
Interfax reported on Sunday that security services had been told suicide bombers and kidnappers were training to kill or capture Putin on his visit, due to start on Tuesday. It did not say who might be behind such groups in the Islamic Republic.
The trip to Tehran will be watched closely by Western capitals pushing Moscow for a harder line reining in an Iranian nuclear program they fear masks a drive for an atomic bomb. Iran denies nuclear arms ambitions and is building a nuclear reactor with Russian help.
“A reliable source in one of the Russian special services, has received information from several sources outside Russia, that during the president of Russia’s visit to Tehran an assassination attempt is being plotted,” Interfax said.
“A number of groups of suicide bombers are preparing for this aim,” Interfax, one of a small circle of Russian agencies with special access to the Kremlin, added.
It gave no details of who the sources were or whether they were linked in any way to Western governments; nor was it clear why the Kremlin would make such a report public in this way just before the planned visit.
“I think this is very serious information,” the head of the Russian parliament’s security committee, Vladimir Vasiliev told the Vesti television news channel. “I hope that through the cooperation of international special services all this information will be verified and the necessary steps taken.”
The semi-official Iranian news agency quoted an “informed source” as saying Putin was still expected in Tehran.
“Western politicians and their media were trying to persuade Putin in a political action not to travel to Iran and now that they have failed in that, they intend to convince him not to travel to Iran by...rumor of an assassination.”
Putin, who will be the first Kremlin chief to visit Iran since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin went in 1943, will formally be in Tehran for a summit of Caspian Sea states.
But a meeting planned with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could give him a chance to seek a peaceful compromise over Tehran’s nuclear programme and to demonstrate his independence from Washington on Middle East issues.
Russia says engaging Tehran is a more effective way of tackling Iran’s nuclear programme than isolating it. It sells weapons to Iran, in defiance of U.S. concerns, and is building a nuclear power station for Iran at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf.
However, Putin’s trip to Tehran is diplomatically tricky for the Kremlin.
Russian officials say privately they are uncomfortable about Ahmadinejad’s radical rhetoric, and traveling to Tehran could deepen differences with the West over how to deal with Iran.
Analysts say repeated delays in completing the Bushehr power station are a sign that, whatever it says in public, the Kremlin has deep misgivings about the Ahmadinejad administration. Russia says the delays are due to technical problems.