Mottaki in Syria to boost cooperation

DAMASCUS (AP) — Iran’s foreign minister warned against a possible “escalation of the crisis in the region” as he arrived in Damascus on Thursday to discuss his country’s nuclear programme and the situation in Iraq with the Syrian president.

During their meeting, Manouchehr Mottaki gave Syria’s Bashar Assad a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussing the “latest regional and international developments,” the state-run Syrian news agency said.

Mottaki said he and Assad had agreed on “the necessity of developing and strengthening bilateral relations with Iraq.” Both Iran and Syria have been accused by the United States of destabilising their war torn neighbour by allowing insurgents to cross their borders.

“Iran and Syria are Iraq’s neighbours, important neighbours, we discussed the latest developments on the Iraqi arena and supported the final touches of building the state,” he said. Mottaki and his Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem also told reporters that both countries agreed that the Iraqi government should take over security matters and that a timetable must be set for the withdrawal of the US-led coalition forces. The Iranian minister’s visit to Syria came as the two countries encounter mounting international pressure, with Iran facing possible United Nations sanctions if it does not abide by a resolution to cease enriching uranium, and Syria being slammed by a Security Council resolution that urges it to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon and respect its neighbour’s full independence.

Mottaki said that Iran’s right to possess “nuclear power for peaceful purposes” was nonnegotiable and warned against any “escalation of the crisis in the region.” He insisted that dialogue with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, was the only way to resolve Tehran’s standoff with the West.

He also criticised UN security council members for having voted the resolution against Syria, which was approved unanimously with China and Russia abstaining. The Iranian minister hinted that the US, France and Britain, who co-sponsored the resolution, had coaxed other members into voting it. “We consider that forcing the UN Security Council to issue a resolution on this [issue] is a novelty and a violation of international law,” he said.

Security Council members “should show more resistance” to such resolutions, which “only weaken this institution,” said Mottaki.

In Lebanon, the Tehran-backed Hizbollah group also condemned the resolution. The group noted that the Security Council focused on Syrian infractions but had failed to mention that Israel also repeatedly violated Lebanese sovereignty. “This shows that the resolution comes in the framework of more pressures on Syria and Lebanon, as opposed to any interest in Lebanese sovereignty,” the group said in a statement.

Mottaki stressed that Iran and Arab nations shared “identical” views on Mideast issues, including how to support the Palestinian people and government, which has ceased to receive aid from the West since a Hamas government was elected to office.

Mottaki said he and the Syrian president criticised the “selective cooperation and double standard” followed by the West, who continues to cooperate with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas while sanctioning the Hamas-led government because it will not renounce violence and recognise Israel.

Mottaki said these sanctions demonstrated that the West did not respect “the will of the Palestinian people that has chosen its government and parliament.”  

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