Mideast talks 'only to help Obama'

2010-10-02 20:15

Tehran - Syrian President Bashar Assad offered dim hopes on Saturday for any success in Middle East peace talks, saying the White House is only using its mediation between Israelis and Palestinians to score political points in the United States.

The comments by Assad - making a one-day visit to Tehran - followed talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is one of Israel's arch-foes. Both leaders pledged to support "resistance" in the region, an apparent reference to Palestinian militants and others opposing Israel.

The visit came two weeks after Ahmadinejad travelled to Syria, signalling his concern about US efforts to pry Damascus away from its alliance with Tehran.

Iran and Syria are both key sponsors of the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is not part of the peace talks.

Assad said the current attempt at dialogue between Israel and Palestinians have brought "no change" and claimed that President Barack Obama only seeks a political boost.

"The talks are only aimed at supporting Obama's position inside the US," Assad said in his first public comments about the process since the latest round of negotiations began last month.

The peace talks are in danger of collapse. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to keep negotiating with Israel without a slowdown in West Bank settlement construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes an extension to the 10-month-old moratorium on West Bank housing starts that expired a week ago.

Last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told the Wall Street Journal that he believed a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace would be doomed without Israel's commitment to first freezing any new construction in disputed territories.

But Syria-based radical Palestinian factions condemned the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying Abbas does not represent all the Palestinian people and called on him to stop the talks.

Iranian state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying he and Assad agreed on the need to "expand resistance" in the region. Assad also was awarded Iran's highest national medal for his support to Palestinian militants and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"Countries in the region, through multilateral cooperation, will be able to form the most powerful economic alliance ... but also in political and security fields," Ahmadinejad said.

Assad's talks in Iran also are expected to touch on the effects of international sanctions on Tehran and the political struggles in neighbouring Iraq.

Syria and Iran wield considerable influence in Iraq among different groups - Syria with Sunnis and Iran among Shi'ites. Iraq has been locked in political stalemate since March elections, but Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears close to winning support to remain in power.

Iran and Syria have had close political and economic ties over the past decades. Assad has visited Iran eight times since 2000. Last month, Ahmadinejad made a brief stop in Damascus en route to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.