In Syria, Iranian president disparages U.S. peace efforts in Mideast

By Albert Aji
Saturday, September 18, 2010; 8:34 PM

DAMASCUS, SYRIA - Iran's president said Saturday that Middle Eastern countries will "disrupt" U.S. and Israeli plans for the region, appearing to dismiss U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace deal between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the comments during a brief stop in Syria, a key ally of Tehran's in its confrontation with the West, where he met with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad.

The meeting came two days after Assad sat down in Damascus with the Obama administration's special Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, to discuss starting separate Syria-Israel peace talks.

The back-to-back trips underscored the battle for influence in Syria between Washington and Tehran. Seeking to isolate Iran, President Obama has tried - unsuccessfully, so far - to pry Damascus away from its alliance with Tehran.

Ahmadinejad spoke disparagingly in Damascus of U.S. peace efforts in the region, saying countries there would "disrupt" U.S. and Israeli plans, though he did not elaborate.

"Those who want to change the political geography of the region must know that they will have no place in the future of the region," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Iran's state-run news agency IRNA.

Ahmadinejad said before his visit to Syria that he and Assad would discuss key areas of conflict and tension in the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He also told Iranian state TV on Friday that he and Assad would discuss "the Westerners' moves in the region," an apparent reference to the United States.

Washington is at odds with Iran over its nuclear program, which it fears is aimed at making weapons, and a military buildup that it believes threatens the United States' Arab allies in the region, as well as Israel. Iran says its nuclear activity is only for producing energy.

The United States began reaching out to Syria soon after Obama took office and has made repeated overtures to Damascus this year, including nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Syria since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with Assad.

Mitchell said during his visit Thursday that the United States is determined to reach a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and that the administration's efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict did not contradict the goal of peace between Israel and Syria.

- Associated Press

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