Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defended Tehran's programme to enrich uranium and chastised the United States for interfering in regional affairs, as he welcomed visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
AFP - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday in Damascus publicly brushed aside US efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.
"I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries ... when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles," Assad told a joint press conference.
"We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history," the Syrian leader said.
Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier the same day, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, considered hardliners in their policies toward US ally Israel, were as "solid" as ever.
"Nothing can damage these relations," he said.
On the same day in Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual "strategic dialogue" for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.
US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met with Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, renewed his prediction that Israel was "on the path to disappearing," echoing several past controversial forecasts that the Jewish state would be "wiped off the map" that stirred outrage in the West.
"If the Zionist entity wants to repeat its past errors, its death will be inevitable," said the Iranian president.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus -- amid steps toward a normalisation of US-Syria ties -- to move away from Tehran.
Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.
"We met today to sign a 'separation accord' between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas," he quipped.
Assad said the agreement would serve "to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels" between the two countries which have been close allies for the past three decades.
In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions against the Islamic republic over its controversial nuclear programme, he also defended Iran's right to pursue uranium enrichment.
"To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region," he said.
The visit came after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a "constructive" dialogue over Tehran's nuclear programme.
Western governments suspect that the programme in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb. Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.
On the eve of Ahmadinejad's visit, the Obama administration said it has been pressing Damascus to move away from Tehran and to stop arming Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Testifying in the Senate, Clinton was blunter than ever about Washington's bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.
She said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, "had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus" when he visited Syria last week, on what was the highest-level such US mission for five years.
Syria is being asked "generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States," Clinton said.
Washington accuses Syria and Iran of supporting fiercely anti-Israeli groups, mainly Lebanon's Shiite militant movement Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas which rules Gaza.
Iran and Syria deny providing any military support.
As for "the resistance in the region," Assad said he and Ahmadinejad had discussed the means to back such groups. "To support the resistance is a moral, patriotic and legal duty," he said.
Ahmadinejad was to meet with Hezbollah and Hamas officials in Damascus later Thursday, according to Iranian sources.
Date created : 2010-02-25