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Robert Raffaele | Washington 27 February 2010
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l) speaks with Syria's President Bashar Assad, as Hezbollah leader sheik Hassan Nasrallah, right, sits next to them during an official dinner, in Damascus, 25, Feb 2010
The presidents of Iran and Syria have rebuked the United States for its policies in the Middle East and for its criticism of both nations. Their remarks came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued to call for sanctions against Iran, and called on Syria to distance itself from Iran.
Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented a united front against what they say is unwelcome meddling by the U.S. in the region.
During a joint news conference Thursday, both men appeared to rebuff U.S calls for Iran to abandon its nuclear efforts, and for Damascus to cut its ties to Tehran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "(The Americans) want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that, and they make some statements as well. These comments are invaluable to us. We tell them that instead of interfering in the region's affairs, to pack their things and leave."
The U.S. and other nations have raised concerns that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week told congressional lawmakers that the Obama administration will continue to push for international sanctions against Iran, unless Tehran reverses course. "Iran has left the international community little choice but to impose greater costs and pressure in the face of its provocative steps," she said.
For his part, Mr. Assad called the United States' stance on Iran a "new situation of colonialism" in the region.
The U.S. has been seeking to improve relations with Damascus. The White House has sent top diplomats to meet with Mr. Assad in recent months, and has named an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in five years.
But the U.S. has criticized Syria for supporting the militant groups in the Middle East, and for not doing more to prevent foreign fighters from crossing its border into Iraq.
Secretary Clinton told Congress that the administration's policies toward Syria are clear. "We have laid out for the Syrians the need for greater cooperation with respect to Iraq. The end to interference in Lebanon and the transport or provision of weapons to Hezbollah. A resumption of the Israeli-Syrian track on the peace process.//(edit to) //and generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran which is so deeply troubling to the region, as well as the United States," she said.
The U.S. is calling on Syria to resume peace talks with Israel that collapsed in 2000. In January, tensions soared after President Assad accused Israel of avoiding peace, and his foreign minister warned of possible attacks on Israeli cities in the event of war.