Iranian president stops in Syria on way to UN
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Iran’s president said Saturday that Middle Eastern countries will “disrupt” American and Israeli plans to change the political geography of the region, appearing to brush aside U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace deal between Israel and its neighbors.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the comments during a brief stop in Syria, a key all in Tehran’s confrontation with the West, where he held talks with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad.
The meeting comes two days after Assad sat down with the Obama administration’s special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in Damascus to discuss starting separate Syria-Israel peace talks.
The back-to-back trips underscored the battle for influence in Syria between Washington and Tehran. Seeking to isolate Iran, President Barack Obama has tried - unsuccessfully, so far - to pry Damascus away from its alliance with Tehran.
Speaking in Damascus, Ahmadinejad appeared to dismiss U.S. efforts to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and a wider deal with its neighbors. He said countries in the Middle East will “disrupt” U.S. and Israeli plans, but did not elaborate.
“Those who want to change the political geography of the region must know that they will have no place in the future of the region,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA.
“The waves of free nations to join this resistance is spreading every day,” he said.
Ahmadinejad said before his visit to Syria that he and Assad would discuss key areas of conflict and tension in the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He also told Iranian state TV Friday that he and Assad would discuss “the Westerners’ moves in the region,” an apparent reference to the United States.
“We have to be ready and in harmony,” he said in the state TV interview, without elaborating.
Washington is at odds with Iran over its nuclear program, which it fears is aimed at making weapons, and with a military buildup by Tehran that it believes threatens the United States’ Arab allies in the region as well as Israel. Iran says its nuclear activity is only for producing energy.
The U.S. began reaching out to Syria soon after President Barack Obama took office, and has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, including nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.
Mitchell said during his visit Thursday that the U.S. was determined to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and that the administration’s efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not contradict peace between Israel and Syria.
Syria and Iran are both under U.S. pressure because of their support for anti-Israel militant groups. The U.S. also accuses Syria of secret nuclear activities, which Damascus denies.
The two leaders stressed the need for Iraqi politicians to overcome arguments that have delayed formation of a new government there after national elections in March, according to Syria’s state news agency, SANA.
Ahmadinejad also called the new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - revived this month with Washington’s mediation - a failure, according to Iran’s state-run Press TV. He said Israel had no place in the future of the region.
Ahmadinejad later made a brief stop in Algeria and spoke with his Algerian counterpart, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, according to a statement from Algeria’s presidency.
The Iranian president was to fly from there to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.