Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday morning, at the resort town of Sochi along the Black Sea in southern Russia.

The visit is Bennett’s first trip to Russia since he was sworn in as premier earlier this year.

The meeting began with closed-door talks between the two leaders, with additional Russian and Israeli officials set to join in later, including Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata, Bennett’s foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir, and the prime minister’s top military adviser, Avi Gil.

Minister Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope), who has in the past served as an interpreter for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during meetings with Putin, is also set to join the meeting.

Putin and Bennett are expected to focus on the Iran nuclear program, efforts to return Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal, and Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, near Israel’s northern border.

Putin welcomed Bennett at the opening of the meeting, saying that while there were a number of “problematic issues” to discuss, he was optimistic the two sides would find “opportunities for cooperation”.

“We have many issues to discuss, and there are many problematic issues, but there are also many opportunities for cooperation, especially in fighting terrorism. Despite the political problems in Israel, I hope that the government will continue its good relations with Russia as they were in the past.”

“We managed to have good relations with the previous [Israeli] government, and we are happy to welcome you here in Russia, Prime Minister of Israel.”

Bennett thanked Putin for hosting the meeting, and said that the two would discuss “the situation in Syria and plans to halt Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Israeli premier lauded Putin for helping to forge a strong relationship between Moscow and Jerusalem over the past 20 years. “I can tell you, in the name of the Israeli people, that we view you as a real friend of the Jewish people.”

Prior to his departure Friday, Bennett said that “the relationship between Russia and Israel is a significant pillar in Israel’s foreign policy, both because of Russia’s special status in the region and its international status, and because of the million Russian speakers in Israel, who form a bridge between the two countries.”

He added, “In general, Israel’s foreign policy and international status are significantly strengthening, there is great energy, and the direction is very good.”

'Russia and Israel have special relationship'

Josh Toupos

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