August 19, 2009 / 6:40 PM / in 8 years

Syria's Assad condemns foreign meddling in Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad congratulated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday on his re-election as president of Iran and condemned foreign interference in the Islamic state, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.

<p>Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walks with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad (L) during a welcoming ceremony in Tehran August 19, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl</p>

Assad, whose country is a close ally of Iran‘s, is one of the first foreign leaders to visit Tehran since Ahmadinejad won the June presidential election, which his moderate opponents say was rigged. Iranian authorities deny the allegation.

“I came here today to personally convey my warm congratulations to you and the Iranian nation,” Assad told Ahmadinejad, IRNA reported. “I believe what has happened in Iran was a great event and a great lesson for foreigners.”

Ahmadinejad and his allies have accused Western powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting street protests after the vote which plunged Iran into its most serious internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“The Syrian president, in his meeting with the Iranian president, condemned the interference of foreign countries in Iran’s internal affairs,” IRNA reported, without elaborating.

It quoted Assad as saying: “The main reason for the West’s interference is to block Iran and Syria’s frequent victories.”

He added: “I‘m confident the re-election of the president by the Iranian nation is a confirmation that Iran and Syria must continue their past policies in the region.”

The poll and its turbulent aftermath have exposed deep divisions in Iran’s ruling elite and further strained its relations with the West. Iran and Western countries were already at odds over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

When Ahmadinejad was officially sworn in on August 5, U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders of France, Britain, Italy and Germany decided not to congratulate him.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Assad later and welcomed a proposal by the Syrian president to form an alliance between the two countries as well as neighbouring Iraq and Turkey, state television said, without giving details.

“Such an alliance would be in line with the region’s benefit,” Khamenei was quoted as saying.

President Nicolas Sarkozy thanked Syria and other countries on Sunday for supporting France in the case of a French teaching assistant detained in Iran on spying charges. IRNA did not say whether Assad and Ahmadinejad discussed the issue.

Clotilde Reiss, who was charged with espionage, was freed on bail of about $300,000 but she is not allowed to leave the country and is staying in the French embassy pending a verdict.

In July, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Damascus believed it could play a role in finding a political solution to the nuclear dispute and other issues between Iran and the West.

Reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Reza Derakhshi; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Richard Williams

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