TEHRAN (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is due in Tehran Saturday to discuss the Islamic republic’s nuclear issue as well as matters of mutual interest, local media reported.
Assad during the two-day visit is to meet with high-ranking Iranian officials to discuss regional and international issues, state-run television reported.
Iran’s ambassador to Syria Ahmad Moussavi said on Friday talks would include Iran’s nuclear programme, which Western countries claim hides an ambition to develop atomic weapons but which Tehran says is purely for peaceful purposes.
“During the visit of the Syrian president, who will meet with Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the two sides will discuss… (Tehran’s) nuclear issue,” Moussavi was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.
The visit will be Assad’s third to Iran — Syria’s staunch regional ally since the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005. His last visit dates back to February 2007.
The alliance between Iran and Syria, stretching back more than three decades, was strengthened in 2006 with the signing of a military cooperation agreement.
The television report said that Iran is currently involved in a range of projects in Syria worth a total of around 1.3 billion dollars.
Assad’s visit to Tehran follows his trip to Paris a month ago during which French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Syria to “persuade Iran” to show proof that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
The United States has given a weekend deadline for Iran to answer an international offer to freeze its nuclear drive and warned of new sanctions if it rejects the package.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino warned: “Negative consequences await if they don’t have a positive response to our very generous incentives package, and that would possibly come in the form of sanctions.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had given Iran two weeks to come up with a “serious” reply after an international meeting in Geneva on July 19 which saw Tehran broadly accused of stonewalling.
Perino said the United States would coordinate any action with its partners in the P5-plus-1, or the permanent UN Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — plus Germany.
The P5-plus-1 has offered Iran benefits in civil nuclear energy, trade, finance, agriculture and high technology if it freezes uranium enrichment.
If Iran accepts the package, there would be pre-negotiations during which Tehran would add no more uranium-enriching centrifuges and, in return, face no further sanctions.