TEHRAN May 26 Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Monday for closer defence ties with Syria, the official IRNA news agency reported, a few days after Israel urged Damascus to distance itself from Tehran.
"So far Iran's and Syria's joint and mutual relations in various fields have been of utmost usefulness and defence relations must expand to the extent possible," he told visiting Syrian Defence Minister Hassan Turkmani.
The IRNA report gave no further details on military cooperation between the two Middle East countries, which the United States accuses of sponsoring terrorism.
Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar described Syria on Sunday as a strategic ally.
Pieter Wezeman, a researcher on conventional arms transfers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said Syria and Iran had military relations but their secretive nature made it difficult to say how substantial they were.
He said Iran was believed to supply Syria mainly with ammunition but there were reports of other kinds of military cooperation. "It is extremely difficult to find any reliable information," Wezeman said by telephone from Stockholm.
Israel and Syria said on Wednesday they had begun a dialogue with the aim of a comprehensive peace, the first confirmation of negotiations between the long-time enemies in eight years.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Thursday Syria needed to distance itself from "problematic ties" with Iran. Syria, she said, must also stop "supporting terror -- Hezbollah, Hamas", two groups backed by Iran.
Syria has demanded the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
The United States said it did not object to talks between Israel and Syria but repeated its criticism of Syria's "support for terrorism".
Political analysts say U.S. hostility to Damascus, and to its Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian allies, makes a Syrian-Israeli deal unlikely before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic says its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more oil and gas. (Reporting by Hashem Kalantari and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)