Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists ties with Syria are 'deep'

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad (l) and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (r)
Ties between Iran and Syria were 'deep and brotherly' they said

Iran's President Mahmoud Amadinejad has emphasised his country's "deep" ties with Syria during a meeting with President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

During his trip Mr Ahmadinejad called for America and Israel to be cleared from the Arab world.

The trip comes just days after the appointment of an new US ambassador to Syria, which had been seen as an improvement in the countries' ties.

But on Thursday President Assad said he would not "distance" Syria from Iran.

"I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles," he said.

He also defended Iran's right to enrich uranium, which has brought the country into conflict with the US and Europe.

Militant meetings

Mr Ahmadinejad said Tehran and Damascus had "brotherly, deep and sustainable ties and no-one could harm the ties even slightly."

Mr Ahmadinejad is also due to meet senior officials from militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, resident in Damascus.

The appointment of a new ambassador represented a "slight opening" in relations between the two countries, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.

But the US still has major concerns over Syria's backing for Islamist militant groups, Mrs Clinton said.

Last week US envoy William Burns said talks with President Assad had been "candid".

They followed the confirmation of the first US ambassador to Syria since top level diplomatic representation was withdrawn in 2005.

The Bush administration withdrew its ambassador after Syria was implicated in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

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