TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman on Sunday dismissed as a “media game” recent reports of a secret arms deal with Syria allegedly made in return for an agreement that Damascus would not hold peace talks with Israel.
Mohammad Ali Hosseini refused to provide confirmation of the deal and questioned how the media would know about it if it was confidential.
“This is a media game,” said Hosseini during his weekly news briefing. “It is not confirmed.”
The Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Saturday that Iran would provide $1 billion to Syria for advanced weapons procurement and would assist the country with nuclear research and the development of chemical weapons, with the understanding that Damascus would not negotiate peace with Israel.
The deal was allegedly signed Thursday when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Syria, said the newspaper. Israeli media later rebroadcast the report.
Both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have publicly called for renewed peace talks recently, but have clashed over the specifics.
Assad has demanded a guarantee that Israel would pull out of all of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 war. He has also demanded a mediator or “honest broker” for the talks. Olmert has refused to commit in advance to a full withdrawal and has indicated a preference for direct talks.
Syria is Iran’s closest Arab ally. The two countries have had close relations since 1980 when Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Both countries face U.S. accusations of fueling violence in Iraq and supporting Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrilla group, which Washington labels a terrorist organization. They are also accused of supporting militant anti-Israeli Palestinian groups, like Hamas.