Syria and Iran back each other against allcomers
'We support iran's nuclear technology'
Syria backed Iran Thursday in its confrontation with the West over its nuclear program, and both countries voiced support to Lebanese Hizbullah's resistance to Israeli occupation.
The Syrian support came at a summit of the nations' two presidents to coordinate policies and consolidate their alliance under the shadow of U.S. pressure and the threat of international sanctions against both.
It also coincided with fresh U.S. calls for Iran to be quickly referred to the UN Security Council for its nuclear programs, in opposition to Russian moves for a softer line.
"We support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology," Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference held with President Mahmoud Ahmad-inejad of Iran.
"It is the right every state to own nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Countries that object to that have not provided a convincing or logical reason," Assad said.
Assad renewed Syria's call for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and said "the beginning should be with Israel."
The Jewish state is widely believed to have nuclear weapons.
"If WMD is the pretext of the West, then it should start with Israel." Israel is thought to possess several hundred nuclear warheads. It has never confirmed or denied having a nuclear arsenal.
Iran and Syria were also united in their calls for stability in Lebanon but stressed "the need to support the resistance" to Israel, a reference to Hizbullah.
Tehran and Damascus both back Hizbullah, which is called on to disarm under UN Security Council Resolution 1559, adopted in September 2004.
Assad said Syria was opposed to "any interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon and its internationalization."
"We believe the Lebanese people can find a solution and I call on all factions to show restraint and patience," Ahmadinejad said.
Assad said relations with Iran have been developing for years and are increasing. "The circumstances in the region dictate on us such strengthening (of ties)," Assad said.
"Considering that Syria is the steadfast party confronting Israel, and Iran is the defender of the Islamic revolution, this obliges us to have more consultation and cooperation," the Iranian president said in Farsi.
Ahmadinejad described his trip as producing "excellent results." "Our relations are solid and deep-rooted and our countries have common positions," he said. The two countries have had close relations since 1980 when Arab Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq, a fellow Arab nation, in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The two countries also have growing economic ties, with annual bilateral trade estimated at about $210 million. Iranian investment in Syria has risen to $750 million, Ahmadinejad said, adding that a joint Syrian-Iranian commission is to meet in February to discuss economic projects.
Ahmadinejad's trip to Damascus came two weeks ahead of an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board on February 2.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated calls for swift action to drag Iran to Security Council, for possible sanctions. She did not mention Russia, but she was speaking a day after the European Union said it was mulling a Russian proposal that would stop short of formally referring Iran to the council.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took a cautious line, saying his country's position at the meeting would be guided by the IAEA's own assessment of Iran's behavior.
"The main principle is not to cause harm, not to cause harm to the international community, not cause harm to the system of non-proliferation," he said after talks on Iran with his French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy in Moscow.
China reiterated its preference for a diplomatic solution. "We hope all parties will exercise restraint and patience and appropriately resolve the Iran nuclear issue through peaceful means," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Iran, whose decision last week to remove UN seals on uranium enrichment equipment prompted the EU to break off two years of talks, has taken a defiant stance, aware of its muscle as the world's fourth biggest oil exporter in a volatile market.
Its top nuclear negotiator said his country was willing to discuss the West's concerns, but not to scrap nuclear fuel research, which could advance a quest for atomic power or bombs.
"They should not ask a brave nation with very good scientists to expect not to engage in nuclear research," Ali Larijani told the British Broadcasting Corporation. "If they want guarantees of no (military) diversion of nuclear fuel we can reach a formula acceptable to both sides in talks." - Agencies