July 19, 2007 / 4:29 PM / 12 years ago

Ahmadinejad meets leaders of Syria and Hezbollah

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday and pledged to strengthen the alliance between their countries, which are both under U.S.-led pressure.

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following his arrival in Damascus, July 19, 2007. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Ahmadinejad also met Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah in the Syrian capital. The backing Syria and Iran give to the Lebanese Shi’ite movement is the lynchpin of their alliance.

A joint communique issued after Ahmadinejad met Assad said the two leaders were “comfortable with the fine way ties between Syria and Iran were going and careful to continue cooperation in all fields”.

“The relation with Syria is progressing daily and in every field and along all lines,” Ahmadinejad told reporters.

Asked whether he expected another “hot summer” after last year’s war between Hezbollah and Israel, Ahmadinejad said: “Summers are always hot and we expect this summer’s temperatures to rise with victories by the peoples of the region.”

Assad said: “This visit takes on an added importance with the circumstances changing rapidly in the region. The Iranian-Syrian relation is a long-term one.”

The secular government in Damascus has been reinforcing links with the Islamic Republic as the two countries try to counter U.S.-led efforts to isolate them.

Both support Hezbollah as well as Hamas and have links to parties in Iraq, and both have been accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism, charges Damascus and Tehran deny.

“TACTICAL” ALLIANCE

Ahmadinejad, championing Iran’s nuclear program despite U.N. sanctions, also met Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and members of the Palestinian group’s politburo-in-exile in Syria during his one-day visit.

“Ahmadinejad promised to keep up the support for the Palestinian people, Hamas and the efforts to initiate a Palestinian dialogue after the latest events in Gaza,” senior Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq told Reuters.

Although Syria’s isolation by the West has eased in recent months, Damascus has shown no signs of curbing its ties with Tehran as Israel and its chief ally Washington demand.

The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist group but Damascus and Tehran regard it as a resistance movement. Links between Lebanon’s large Shi’ite community and Iran go back centuries.

Syrian officials have privately described as “tactical” their alliance, which dates from 1979, when Syria, unlike the rest of the Arab world, was quick to establish ties with the clerical government in Iran after the Islamic Revolution and backed Iran during its 1980-88 war with Iraq.

Israel has demanded that Damascus cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas before it will accept Syria’s calls for peace talks. Damascus rejects this, saying Israeli occupation of Arab lands is behind the region’s ills.

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