Sanctions, Hostages Top Assad’s Agenda in Iran With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ President Hafez Assad of Syria met Saturday with his Iranian counterpart, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and reportedly tried to persuade him not to send food and medicine to Iraq in violation of the U.N. embargo.
The talks in Tehran also were believed to have focused on the fate of 13 Western hostages in Lebanon, according to news reports and diplomats.
Rafsanjani voiced concern about the presence of U.S. and other Western military forces in the region, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
″We should not allow foreign forces and those hegemonist powers who are all geared up to tighten their grip on vital oil resources, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and other sensitive points of the world to remain in the region,″ Rafsanjani said.
Assad agreed that security would best be provided by countries of the region, the news agency reported.
Iran’s official Tehran Radio did not say how long the two presidents talked in private. It said they later opened their discussions to their vice presidents and foreign ministers.
The broadcast said Assad, who was on his first visit to Iran, earlier visited the tomb of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the outskirts of the Iranian capital.
Assad, an archrival of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, has allied himself with the Americans and others against Saddam following the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
U.S. officials hope Assad’s leverage in Tehran - stemming from his support of Iran during the 1980-88 war with Iraq - will persuade Rafsanjani not to help Saddam circumvent the trade embargo.
Diplomatic reports have suggested Iran may allow food and medicine into Iraq, which agreed to formally end its war with Iran last month. That freed tens of thousands of troops from Iraq’s eastern border for redeployment in southern Iraq and occupied Kuwait.
Assad, who met last week with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, was believed to be carrying a message for Rafsanjani from Washington, asking what it would take for Tehran to abide by the sanctions.
He was also expected to stress to Iran that the U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf is aimed solely at forcing Saddam out of Kuwait and will not be permanent, according to diplomatic sources who requested anonymity.
Syria stands to gain Western aid for its ramshackle economy and political support withheld in the past because of alleged links to terrorism, they said.
Arriving at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport for his first visit to Iran, Assad said he was happy to be among his ″dear brethren,″ Tehran Radio reported.
Tehran Radio, monitored in Cyprus, quoted Assad as saying he was looking forward to meeting Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Assad said his talks in Tehran will cover bilateral issues, the gulf crisis and ″ways of confronting Zionism,″ the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. He made no reference to the Western hostages held by pro-Iranian militants in Lebanon, where Syria is the main power broker.
But the English-language Tehran Times, which reflects government thinking, said Saturday it was ″coordination between the Islamic Republic and Syria, as well as the application of their spiritual influence, which led to the release of some Western hostages in Lebanon.″
The statement was an apparent reference to Iran’s role in the release last April of American educators Robert Polhill and Frank Reed.
Hours after Assad’s visit was announced Tuesday, Javad Mansoori, Iran’s ambassador in Pakistan, said that some of the Western hostages could be released within days.
Diplomats in Damascus and Tehran have said the hostages’ plight will be a main topic in Assad’s meetings with Rafsanjani.
Most of the hostages - six Americans, four Britons, two West Germans and an Italian - are held by Shiite factions linked to the fundamentalist Hezbollah, or Party of God, Tehran’s main ally in Lebanon.
The hostages include journalist Terry Anderson, 42, the longest-held captive. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, was kidnapped on March 16, 1985.
Assad discussed the hostage issue with Baker in Damascus last week.
Setting aside more than a decade of hostility with the United States, Assad has sent about 4,000 troops to join the U.S.-led multinational force in Saudi Arabia. Baker won a pledge from Assad to send another 15,000 soliders.
Assad will try to gauge the seriousness of Iranian suggestions it may dispatch food and other essentials to Iraq.
Some analysts have seen the Iranian threats as a ploy to secure Western aid.
Rafsanjani has sought the return of Iranian assets frozen by Washington as a condition for improving relations and any intervention on behalf of the Western hostages.
On Friday, the United States paid $200 million to Iran for undelivered American weapons ordered before the ouster of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979, Western diplomats said.
Tehran says it has about $11 billion worth of assets in the United States. But U.S. officials say the figure is considerably lower.