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Iran offers "unchangeable" support for Syria
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Thursday it would stand by its ally Syria despite mounting international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down to defuse a 16-month uprising against his rule.
Iran's Press TV quoted first Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying Tehran's support for Syria was "unchangeable", countering suggestions that Tehran could soften its backing for Assad, the Shi'ite Muslim republic's closest Arab ally.
"The Iranian people have an unchangeable stance on Syrians and will always stand by them," Rahimi was quoted as saying, accusing major powers of uniting to damage the Syrian nation.
The secretary of Iran's National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, said on Thursday Tehran was ready to support Damascus "more than before in the face of foreign pressure", the official IRNA news agency reported.
Despite lauding popular uprisings in other Arab countries as an "Islamic awakening", Iran has dismissed opposition to Assad's rule as a foreign conspiracy.
A statement earlier this month by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that Tehran was ready to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups had suggested a possible policy shift.
In a concrete sign of support for the Syrian authorities, a delegation of Syrian ministers was received in Tehran on Thursday and the two sides agreed a deal on importing Iranian electricity via Iraq.
"We agreed with Iran that in one month agreements be made with Iraq so that, putting problems to one side, electricity imports from Iran begin," the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) quoted Imad Khamis, Syria's electricity minister, as saying.
"Iran will not leave Syria alone in difficult times," Iranian Energy Minister Majid Namjou was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency, adding Tehran was ready to reconstruct facilities damaged in Syria during the uprising.
Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim-led government, which is close Iran, has called for reform in Syria - whose leadership belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam - rather than an end to Assad's 12-year-old rule.
(Reporting by Isabel Coles and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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