DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria asserted Thursday that Iran had a right to atomic technology and said Western objections to Tehran's nuclear ambitions were not persuasive.
President Bashar Assad of Syria, a longtime Iranian ally facing its own international criticism, said he backed Tehran's moves toward nuclear power and wanted to strengthen ties.
"We support Iran regarding its right to peaceful nuclear technology," Assad said at a news conference with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the start of two days of meetings. "It is the right of Iran and any other state to own nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Countries that object to that have not provided a convincing or logical reason."
Russia's Foreign Minister Thursday called for a cautious approach to the mounting crisis over Iran's renewal of nuclear research, while a senior U.S. envoy accused Tehran of deceiving the world about its intentions.
The U.S. and key European nations have been pushing for Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council, a first step toward possible sanctions over Iran's unsealing equipment earlier this month and announcing the start of small-scale experimental uranium enrichment, a potential step toward nuclear weapons.
Syria is facing its own international condemnation, over its reluctance to cooperate with a U.N. investigation implicating it in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus has denied any role.
Ahmadinejad said the two countries needed to coordinate their positions.
"Considering that Syria is the steadfast party confronting Israel, and Iran is the defender of the Islamic revolution, this obliges us to have more consultation and cooperation," the Iranian president said in Farsi comments translated into Arabic.
"The circumstances in the region dictate on us such strengthening (of ties)," he said.
Syria, Iran's closest Arab ally, sits on the 35-nation Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which meets on Feb. 2 to vote on referring Tehran to the Security Council.
Gregory L. Schulte, America's delegate to the IAEA, accused Iran on Thursday of deceiving the world about its atomic program, saying that referring Iran to the Security Council would be meant to deny "the most deadly of weapons to the most dangerous of countries."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for a cautious approach.
"In this situation it is essential not to harm the global community, the nuclear nonproliferation regime," he said.
Moscow and Beijing carry great weight with other IAEA board countries and both have vetoes on the 15-member Security Council. They are opposed to sanctioning a country with which they have strong economic and strategic ties. In recent days, they have expressed reluctance even to the idea of referral.
Placing an embargo on Iran's oil exports would hurt Tehran, which earns most of its revenues from energy sales, but also roil world crude markets.
Schulte, in comments at a public lecture, played down differences with Russia and China, saying both "have been pressing very strongly on Tehran."
Alluding to comments by Ahmadinejad denying Israel's right to exist, Schulte said: "A country that threatens 'death' to other countries must be denied the most deadly of weapons."
Iran's top nuclear negotiator told the British Broadcasting Corp. that his country is ready to compromise with the West.
"If they want guarantees of no diversion of nuclear fuel, we can reach a formula acceptable to both sides in talks," the negotiator, Ali Larijani, told the BBC.
The offer to guarantee nuclear fuel won't be diverted to weapons was unlikely to satisfy Europe and the U.S., which are insisting Iran not enrich uranium at all.
Iran insists its plans for enrichment are only to produce nuclear fuel. But a series of suspicious finds by IAEA inspectors over almost three years have hardened suspicions that Iran wants to make weapons-grade uranium for nuclear warheads.
Europe, backed by the United States, on Wednesday rejected an Iranian request to renew talks.
France, Germany and Britain had been leading negotiations on behalf of the 25-member European Union.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told ZDF television from Egypt Thursday that talks had "reached a point where we would have risked our credibility if we had simply continued" but that "does not mean that we are no longer seeking diplomatic solutions."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that "there's not much to talk about" until Iran halts nuclear activity. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also rejected any return to talks
Ahmadinejad Wednesday accused the West of acting like the "lord of the world" in denying his country the peaceful use of the atom.