Iranian President Visits Syria

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out Thursday at unspecified enemies of the troubled Middle East, warning them to abandon their “hostile plans.”

During a one-day trip to Damascus, Ahmadinejad held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who said their discussions focused on Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, where both Tehran and Damascus wield influence.

“The enemies of the region should abandon plans to attack the interests of this region, or they will be burned by the wrath of the region’s peoples,” the hardline Iranian leader said at a joint press conference with Assad.

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Both Iran and Syria face U.S. accusations of fueling violence in Iraq, supporting Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrilla group, which Washington labels a terrorist organization. They are also accused of supporting anti-Israeli militant Palestinian groups, like the Islamic Hamas.

Later Thursday, Ahmadinejad met in Damascus with Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who apparently came from Lebanon for the meeting. It was believed to be the first encounter of the two since last summer’s war between the Lebanese militants and Israel, and the first confirmed time that Nasrallah came to Syria.

At the news conference, Ahmadinejad voiced support for Hezbollah, alluding to the 2006 war.

“We hope that the hot weather of this summer would coincide with similar victories for the region’s peoples, and with consequent defeat for the region’s enemies,” Ahmadinejad said.

He described Syrian-Iranian relations as “amicable, excellent and extremely deep,” adding that the two countries have common stands on regional issues and face common enemies.

Syria is Iran’s closest Arab ally. The two countries have had close relations since 1980 when Syria sided with Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Assad mentioned those relations and said the “farsighted policies” of both governments have proven to be correct.

Syria and Iran have growing economic ties, with the annual two-way trade estimated at about $200 million. Iranian companies have invested more than $1 billion in Syria, in sectors such as power generation, automobiles, cement and agriculture, Syrian newspapers reported Thursday.

Syria’s most important exports to Iran are cotton and textiles, olive oil and fruit. Iranian exports to Syria are mainly industrial equipment, spare parts, chemicals and locomotives.

More than half a million Iranian tourists visit Syria annually, touring Shiite Muslim religious sites.

The Syrian leader said they also discussed “ways of restoring dialogue among all Palestinian factions.” Syria also backed Iran’s right to pursue a nuclear program and the two called for the “departure of all occupation forces” from Iraq _ a reference to U.S. troops.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called on Syria to cut its relations with Iran as a precondition to restart peace process, deadlocked since 2000.

Syrian officials have shunned Olmert’s demand and stressed that Syria’s relations with Iran are a matter of sovereignty.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)