News / Middle East

Iran, Hezbollah Leaders Meet in Syria

The head of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group has met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Syria.

Part of their Thursday evening meeting aired on Syrian television.

The Syrian Arab News Agency said the men met at a dinner hosted by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Hezbollah's Al-Manar television says Mr. Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah discussed "the latest developments" in the region, and Israeli threats against Lebanon and Syria.

Earlier this month, Iranian state media reported Mr. Ahmadinejad vowed to stand by Hezbollah and urged the militant group to "get rid" of Israel once and for all if a war breaks out.

Mr. Ahmadinejad was in Damascus for talks with Mr. Assad aimed at strengthening ties between Iran and Syria.  In their talks, the two presidents pledged unity and signed an agreement ending the need for travel visas between their countries.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Syria to distance itself from Iran, which the United States wants to isolate for its nuclear program and its support of Hezbollah and Hamas militants.

Mr. Assad pledged support for Iran's nuclear program Thursday and said U.S. concerns go against the Obama administration's calls for stability and peace in the Middle East.  

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington Thursday that Mr. Assad needs to look around the region and realize that Syria is "increasingly an outlier."

Crowley urged Syria to play a more constructive role in the region, including making clear what Iran needs to do differently.

The U.S. has been seeking to improve relations with Damascus - nominating a new ambassador to Syria for the first time since 2005 - while putting more pressure on Iran because of its nuclear program.

President Ahmadinejad said Thursday the U.S. should abandon its efforts in the region, and that he envisions a new Middle East without American influence and without Israel.

The United States and other world powers accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon, a charge that Tehran denies.  

Syria was accused of conducting covert nuclear activities in a recent report by the United Nations atomic energy agency.  That report based its conclusions on uranium particles found at a Syrian facility destroyed in an Israeli air raid in 2007.

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