January 31, 2012 / 6:52 PM / 6 years ago

Iran's Khamenei criticizes U.S. "interference" in Syria

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized "interference" by the United States in Syrian affairs on Tuesday, but said Tehran would welcome reforms in its closest Arab ally, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"Iran's stance towards Syria is to support any reforms that benefit the people of this country and oppose the interference of America and its allies in Syrian domestic issues," Khamenei said, according to IRNA.

Khamenei's remarks came as the Arab League prepared to present a plan to the U.N. Security Council - backed by Washington, Paris and London - for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to give up powers.

Tehran has tempered its rhetoric on Syria as the crisis there has dragged on for 10 months. At first, it wholeheartedly supported Assad's stance against public opposition, but lately it has been encouraging reforms to take account of popular grievances.

Assad says his government is committed to reform but is battling a foreign-backed insurgency by militants.

Khamenei criticized neighbors for allying themselves with Washington.

"When one looks at the developments in that country ... America's plans for Syria are evident and unfortunately some foreign and regional countries take part in America's plans," Khamenei said.

Assad's alliance with Shi'ite Muslim, non-Arab Iran has occasionally put him at odds with other Arab countries, mostly ruled by Sunni Muslims.

The Arab League has proposed a peace plan which would involve Assad giving up powers to a deputy. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby was taking that plan to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, backed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the foreign ministers of France and Britain.

The United Nations said in December more than 5,000 people had been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants.

Editing by Peter Graff

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