Tehran, Iran Vladimir Putin issued a veiled warning Tuesday against any attack on Iran as he made the first visit by a Kremlin leader to Tehran in six decades - a mission reflecting Russian-Iranian efforts to curb U.S. influence.
He also suggested Moscow and Tehran should have a veto on Western plans for new pipelines to carry oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea, using routes that would bypass Russian soil and break the Kremlin's monopoly on energy deliveries from the region.
Putin came to Tehran for a summit of the five nations bordering the Caspian, but his visit was aimed more at strengthening efforts to blunt U.S. economic and military ties in the area. Yet he also refused to set a date for completing Iran's first nuclear reactor, trying to avoid an outright show of support for Iran's defiance over its nuclear program.
Putin strongly warned outside powers against use of force in the region, a clear reference to the United States, which many in Iran fear will attack over the West's suspicions that the Iranians are secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made similar comments.
"We are saying that no (Caspian) nations should offer their territory to outside powers for aggression or any military action against any of the Caspian states," Putin said.
The five national leaders at the summit later signed a declaration that included a similar statement - an apparent reflection of Iranian fears that the United States could use Azerbaijan's territory as a staging ground for military strikes in Iran.
Putin has warned against such attacks previously, but reiterating them in Tehran gave them greater resonance - particularly at a summit for a region where Moscow deeply resents U.S. and European attempts at greater influence.
The Russian leader also used the occasion to make a nod to Iran's national pride - describing it as a "world power" and referring to the might of the ancient Persian empire.
In Iran's confrontation with the West, Russia has tread a fine line, warning against heavy pressure on Iran and protecting it - for now - from a third round of U.N. sanctions, while urging Tehran to heed the Security Council's demand that it halt uranium enrichment.
Putin's careful stance on completing the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran suggested the Kremlin is seeking to preserve solid ties with Tehran without angering the West.
"Russia is trying to sit in two chairs at the same time," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told The Associated Press. A pledge to quickly complete the plant would send a "strong signal to the West that Russia is with Iran," he said.
Putin showed he wouldn't be pressed into speeding up completion of the $1 billion contract to build Bushehr.
"I only gave promises to my mom when I was a small boy," he snapped when Iranian reporters prodded him to promise a quick launch.
At the same time, Putin - on the first trip to Iran by a Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin visited in 1943 for talks with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II - said Moscow wouldn't back down on its obligation to finish the plant.
"Russia has clearly stated that it's going to complete this work," Putin said. "We are not renouncing this obligation."
Russia has warned that the Bushehr plant would not go on line this fall as originally planned, saying Iran was slow in making payments.