Before leaving Tehran for Damascus on 19 December, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced that "Tehran and Damascus have a common stance on Islamic and regional issues," IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, demonstrated their common views on the nuclear issue, on Lebanon, on Iraq, and on Palestine during a press conference later the same day.
Ahmadinejad also said Iran's construction in Syria of silos -- as well as factories for making cement, glass, and automobiles -- demonstrates the extent of economic cooperation between the two countries. He said previous agreements should be reviewed in order to maximize the potential of the joint economic meeting scheduled for the next month.
Hard-line Iranian media have echoed the executive branch's support for the Syrian government.
Two Countries Under Threat
Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli statements in the last few months have only served to increase pre-existing fears over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Tehran is therefore facing a great deal of international pressure to abandon parts of the nuclear program that might contribute to building weapons. Damascus, meanwhile, faces intense pressure because of the continuing UN investigation into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The investigation's findings so far point the finger at Syrian military and security officials who were involved with the occupation of Lebanon.
Imad Fawzi al-Shu'aybi, director of the Center for Strategic Data and Studies in Damascus, said in a 19 January interview with Al-Jazeera television that Ahmadinejad's visit should be seen in the context of these issues. He did not expect any startling developments and, regarding the predicted signing of a defense agreement, he was cautious. He said leaks about a possible agreement imply two things. "First, the two countries can resort to another option in case they are running out of political options. Second, the news leaks show that Arab countries should take action because they have been moving slowly regarding the Syrian situation."
Hard-line Tehran newspapers -- which often reflect the views of leading regime figures -- have recently been supportive of Damascus. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily editorialized on 3 January that Rafiq Hariri was sacrificed for the U.S. Greater Middle East Initiative, and U.S hostility to Syria began the day after the invasion of Iraq. The murder of Hariri was "the first phase of the project America and the Zionists had prepared to pave the way for annexing Syria and Lebanon to the imperialist plot of a Greater Middle East." Another part of this supposed conspiracy, according to the editorial, is confronting and disarming Lebanese Hizballah.
One day earlier, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" editorialized about the recent comments of former Syrian Vice President Abd al-Halim Khaddam, who is viewed as the architect of Syria's Lebanon policy. While in exile, Khaddam accused al-Assad of threatening Hariri, and he endorsed the UN investigation into the assassination. The editorial accused Khaddam of "perfidy" and suggested that he wanted to succeed to the presidency after Hafez al-Assad died, and it added that he has become an instrument of the foreign powers responsible for the assassination. It continued, "Zionists and arrogant Western powers in the region have undeniable reasons for gaining from his assassination, and there are compelling evidence and substantiated reasons that show how they benefited from his death."
A 2 January commentary in "Resalat" had similar thoughts. It said the United States, as well as France and Israel, are interfering in domestic Lebanese and Syrian affairs, and also trying to discredit Hizballah.
... Payvand News - 1/21/06 ... --