Iran says ties with Syria rock solid

Iran Materials 3 December 2007 12:13 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - Iran's adversaries cannot harm the strong ties between Tehran and Damascus, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday, a week after Iran appeared to chide Syria for its decision to take part in a Mideast summit in the United States.

State-run television quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad that "enemies cannot damage real and firm Tehran-Damascus relations."

Though Iran never directly criticized Syria for attending the summit in Annapolis, Md. last week, Ahmadinejad and other top officials said the summit was doomed to fail and scolded Arab nations for going. Tehran was not invited to the meeting.

But Syria's attendance and Iran's harsh criticism of the meeting appeared to indicate at least some tension between the two allies - a rare event in the past decades.

During his meeting Sunday with Ahmadinejad, Mekdad gave the Iranian president a written message from Syrian President Bashar Assad and underlined the strategic relationship between the two countries, Iran's official news agency, IRNA, reported. No details of the message from Assad were given.

Both Ahmadinejad and Mekdad said Iran-Syrian ties remained strong.

Mekdad also said Syrian would "never let anyone harm the friendly ties" between Iran and Syria, IRNA reported.

Syria said it decided to send Mekdad to the summit only after the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was added to the agenda.

During the trip, the Syrian delegation shook hands with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - indicating a slight thaw in the diplomatic chill between Washington and Damascus.

U.S. officials had hoped the Annapolis meeting could mark a start to moving Syria out of its alliance with Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are Iranian-backed militant groups.