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Iran Awards Syrian Leader Highest Medal of Honor

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, holds up the hand of his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad after he was awarded Iran's highest national medal in a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, 2 Oct 2010

Iran's president has awarded Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad Iran's highest medal of honor, in recognition of his support of Palestinian rights and his resistance of what he calls Israeli "aggression."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the award Saturday after he and Mr. Assad held talks in Tehran on a wide range of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Iran's state-run media quotes Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying no country in the region would be safe from Israel's "atrocities" in the absence of Syria's altruism. A media photo shows the two leaders with their hands joined in the air and Mr. Assad wearing a large blue and white sash.

Earlier Saturday, the two men discussed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Syria's state-run SANA news agency said both leaders affirmed that Israel's West Bank settlement expansions and blockade of Gaza show what they called the "falsehood of Israel's claim" that it wants to achieve peace.

Mr. Ahmadinejad called the U.S.-mediated talks an effort for President Barack Obama to gain support within the United States. During a visit to Syria last month, he said direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians were a "failure."

SANA said Mr. Assad and Mr. Ahmadinejad also discussed continued cooperation between their two countries in investments and trade, as well as expanding regional economic cooperation. Iranian state media reports say trade between Iran and Syria is valued at $3 billion and is expected to reach $5 billion in the near future.

Also, President Assad reiterated the "right of all countries" to have the peaceful use of nuclear energy, after President Ahmadinejad briefed him on Iran's nuclear program. The United Nations and some world powers have imposed sanctions on Iran because of its controversial nuclear program.

The Syrian president also is meeting with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.