TEHRAN (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in Tehran on Saturday that direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were aimed only at bolstering support for President Barack Obama inside the United States.
Meanwhile, his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised Assad’s role in “resistance” against Israel, the Islamic republic’s arch-foe.
“Nothing has changed in the Palestinian peace process (which) only aims to garner support for Obama inside America,” Assad was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the website of Ahmadinejad’s office.
He was speaking at the start of an official visit to Iran, during talks with Ahmadinejad who also criticised the United States and Israel, saying “America’s facade has crumbled and the Zionist regime has been exposed,” without specifying whether he was referring to the US-mediated peace talks.
Exactly one month after they were launched, the direct talks are at risk of collapsing since Israel allowed a 10-month moratorium on new settler homes in the West Bank to expire last Sunday.
Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have already dismissed the direct talks, as the Islamic republic does not recognise Israel.
The Obama administration has increasingly sought to develop ties with Syria, and has encouraged Damascus to distance itself from Tehran.
But senior Washington officials, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates, have accused both Iran and Syria of arming the Shiite Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with sophisticated rockets and missiles.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006 that killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mainly soldiers.
Iranian media said on Saturday that Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine would feature prominently in Assad’s talks with Iranian leaders.
His visit comes just days after Iraqi ex-prime minister Iyad Allawi said he asked Syria to persuade Iran to keep out of his protracted battle for the premiership with incumbent Nuri al-Maliki after inconclusive elections in March.
At a news conference in Damascus on Wednesday, Allawi accused Iran of “interfering in Iraqi affairs.”
“We have been asking leaders who have good relations with Iran to ask it not to interfere in Iraqi affairs and we discussed this with President Assad,” Allawi said, adding that Assad had “promised to make every effort for Iraq and the region’s stability.”
Assad’s visit also precedes an Ahmadinejad trip later this month to Lebanon, where Iran’s ally Hezbollah is locked in a bitter war of words with Prime Minister Saad Hariri about a UN-backed court’s probe into the assassination of his father Rafiq in 2005.
Ahmadinejad on Saturday awarded Assad a “medal of valour” at a function in which the Iranian hardliner praised Syria for its role in “resistance” against Israel.
“Syria has been receiving constant threats from Zionists and their allies, which shows the role of Syria in preserving security in the region,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast by state television.
“Today, Syria, along with Lebanon and Palestinian resistance, is a symbol of courage.”
Ahmadinejad said that Iran and Syria will “warmly shake the hand of any nation which wants foreign troops… to leave.
“Real peace and stability can come with the return of (Palestinian) refugees, the end of occupation (of Palestinian territories by Israel) and officially acknowledging the Palestinian people’s right of self determination.”
As he accepted the medal, Assad said the “role model relationship” between Iran and Syria “can bring peace and stability” to the Middle East.
Later on Saturday, before returning home, the Syrian president held talks with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who lashed out at Washington, the state television’s website reported.
“America is the main opposer to the axis of resistance,” Khamenei told Assad without naming the axis, the website said.
“American officials are exerting efforts to destroy this axis of resistance, but their efforts will fail.”
He also called on all Iraqi groups to respect the votes of the people, and with “cooperation and solidarity help reconstruct Iraq and resolve the problems of the population.
“Of course, this will materialise with the pull-out of the occupying (US) forces from the country,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.