BEIRUT

Middle East

Syria's Assad 'legitimate president' till 2014: Iran

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, from left, arrive at the 5th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations at the Hofburg palace, in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

TEHRAN: Close Damascus ally Iran expects Bashar al-Assad to remain Syria's president until elections next year, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday.

"The official position of Iran is that... Assad will remain legitimate president until the next... election" in 2014, Salehi said at a news conference with his visiting Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem.

Muallem arrived on Saturday for talks aimed at ending the nearly two-year conflict in Syria that the United Nations says has killed at least 70,000 people and is tearing the country apart.

His visit comes after a week of intense international diplomacy aimed at ending the bloodshed.

Salehi threw Iran's weight behind Damascus's call this week for dialogue with the armed opposition, calling the initiative a "positive step," but reiterated Assad's regime has "no choice" but to keep fighting rebels.

"We believe that the crisis has no military solution and only a Syrian political one," said the Iranian minister.

"Iran firstly wants stop to the bloodshed but the Syrian government has no choice but to fight against the terrorists and we cannot ask the Syrian government not to do so and leave them alone," he added.

Muallem condemned the announcement by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday that Washington would provide $60 million in "non-lethal" assistance to support the Syrian political opposition.

"When the US (says it has) allocated $60 million to the opposition and this opposition is killing people, I don't understand this initiative... are there any weapons that do not kill people? Who are you kidding?" Muallem asked.

He repeated calls for pressure to be exerted on Turkey and Qatar, among the main supporters of the rebels alongside Western countries.

While in Tehran, Muallem is also due to meet the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, Mehr news agency reported.

 

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