Iran and Syria, both locked in rows with the United States, said on Wednesday they would form a common front to face challenges and threats.
“We are ready to help Syria on all grounds to confront threats,” Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Aref said in Tehran after meeting Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otari.
Otari told reporters: “This meeting, which takes place at this sensitive time, is important, especially because Syria and Iran face several challenges and it is necessary to build a common front.”
Syria’s ambassador to the United States, asked by CNN what the common front with Iran entailed, stressed that it was not an anti-American alliance and said Syria was trying to improve its relations with Washington.
“Today we do not want to form a front against anybody, particularly not against the United States,” Imad Moustapha said.
“Syria is trying to engage constructively with the United States … We are not the enemies of the United States, and we do not want to be drawn into such an enmity,” he added.
In a reaction to Iran and Syria’s possible formation of a unified front to face threats, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called on the both countries to abide by the international commitments.
“It is a fundamental misreading of the issue because their problem is not with the United States, it’s with the international community,” McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush to New Hampshire.
“Both Syria and Iran have international obligations and they need to abide by the commitments they have made to the international community.”
Washington recalled its ambassador to Syria for urgent consultations on Tuesday to show its deep displeasure with Damascus after Monday’s killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
U.S. officials said they were considering imposing new sanctions on Syria because of its refusal to withdraw its 14,000 troops from Lebanon and the U.S. belief that Syria lets Palestinian militants and Iraqi insurgents operate on its soil.
While acknowledging they do not know who was to blame for Hariri’s car bomb assassination, U.S. officials argued Syria’s military presence and its political power-broking role were generally responsible for Lebanon’s instability.
Syria rejects accusations it supports terrorism.
Moustapha told CNN Damascus regarded its military presence in Lebanon as a “stabilizing factor” and said “we would be happy to withdraw the troops” if the Lebanese government asked Syria to do so.
Washington has branded Iran part of an “axis of evil” along with pre-war Iraq and North Korea and accuses Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is solely for electricity generation.
Bush has dubbed Iran “the world’s primary state sponsor of terror” and has warned the United States could use military action to prevent it acquiring a nuclear bomb.