CAIRO — Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told Thursday's session of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran that Egypt supports the struggle of the Syrian people against what he called "an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy."
Syria's delegation walked out to protest the remarks.
As the outgoing head of the moment, Morsi sat at the center of the podium, next to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He is the first Egyptian leader to visit the Iranian capital since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The seven-hour trip, which received praise in the Egyptian press, was a matter of protocol as much as symbolism since Egypt is due to hand over the movement chairmanship to Iran.
In a stinging rebuke to his Iranian hosts, who strongly support Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Morsi announced his "complete solidarity with Syrians struggling for freedom and justice."
Morsi did not meet with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, leading some analysts to conclude that Khamenei was not pleased with the Egyptian comments on Syria.
Syrian state TV pulled the plug on its live broadcast of Morsi's speech, indicating later that his criticism was a "breach of summit protocol." Iraq's Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who like Iran supports the Syrian regime, appeared to grimace during the speech.
Middle East analyst James Denselow of King's College London says that Morsi's unexpected criticism of Syria, along with his unusual visit to Tehran, underscores Egypt's return to an independent foreign policy stance after the diplomatic certainty under ex-President Hosni Mubarak.
"The new leader of Egypt is far more unpredictable than the rather more moribund Mubarak dynasty," he said. "So I think Egypt is a country whose foreign policy is no longer a matter of certainty and will far more be driven by new factors, more varied factors and potentially more democratic factors in the long run."
Denselow called Morsi's trip to Tehran "a reflection of Egypt's return to the international stage." The new Egyptian leader is also due to visit Washington in September, following the annual opening session of the United Nations.
Iran and Syria say the Syrian uprising is separate from the Arab Spring and consists largely of foreign-backed "terrorists" acting on behalf of the U.S. and regional countries.
UN council to meet
Later Thursday, the U.N. Security Council will meet to discuss Syria's humanitarian crisis. The council is deadlocked about taking strong action after Russia and China blocked three Western-backed resolutions that criticized Assad and threatened sanctions.
At a joint news conference ahead of the U.N. meeting, the foreign ministers of France and Britain urged Assad loyalists to defect.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said they should “separate themselves from that criminal clan as soon as possible.” He said France and Britain agree that the Assad family should be held accountable for its crimes before the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
The ministers said they would seek a meeting on funding U.N. humanitarian assistance to Syria in the coming weeks.
France announced it would give an additional $6 million, part of which would be dedicated to “liberated areas” of Syria. Britain said it is donating an additional $6 million to humanitarian assistance.
As fighting continues in Syria, rebels say they shot down a fighter jet in the northern province of Idlib near the Turkish border. The report could not be independently verified.
An activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says 20 people were killed, including eight children, when regime forces bombarded a town Thursday in Idlib province. Government and rebel forces fighting for control over a military airport have engaged in intense clashes in the area that was attacked.
VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations.