YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) - Russia welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday on his first trip abroad since his bitterly disputed re-election, a show of support for a leader facing massive protests at home and questions from the West about the legitimacy of the vote count.
Ahmadinejad arrived in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg and sat down for talks at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Russia, China and four Central Asian nations. Iran has observer status in the grouping, widely seen as a counterbalance to U.S. interest in the region.
A senior Russian diplomat hailed Ahmadinejad's visit as evidence of strong ties between Russia and Iran.
"It's quite symbolic that the Iranian president arrived in Russia on his first foreign visit since re-election," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at a briefing. "We see that as a sign that the Russian-Iranian relations will advance further."
Ahmadinejad had been expected to arrive Monday and meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the summit. He postponed the trip for one day amid persistent street protests in Iran following his re-election Friday in a vote his main opponents claim were rigged. Iran's state radio says at least seven people died in clashes in Tehran.
Ryabkov said the election was Iran's internal affair, but he endorsed Ahmadinejad as the victor.
"We welcome the fact that the elections have taken place, and we welcome the newly re-elected Iranian president on the Russian soil," he said. "We see this visit as a reflection of partner-like, neighborly and traditionally friendly relations between Moscow and Tehran."
President Barack Obama said Monday he does not know who rightfully won the Iranian election, and the European Union Monday said an Iranian probe into alleged election fraud must answer all complaints made by opposition protesters.
It was unclear whether Medvedev would meet with Ahmadinejad on Tuesday.
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