DAMASCUS, Syria – Iran's foreign minister warned Thursday against a possible "escalation of the crisis in the region" in discussions with Syria's president about Tehran's nuclear program and the situation in Iraq.
During their meeting, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gave Syria's Bashar Assad a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the "latest regional and international developments," the state-run Syrian news agency said.
Mottaki said he and Assad had agreed on "the necessity of developing and strengthening bilateral relations with Iraq." Both Iran and Syria have been accused by Washington of destabilizing their neighbor by allowing insurgents to cross their borders.
"Iran and Syria are Iraq's neighbors, important neighbors, we discussed the latest developments on the Iraqi arena and supported the final touches of building the state," he said.
Mottaki and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem told reporters that both countries agreed the Iraqi government should take over security matters and that a timetable must be set for the withdrawal of the U.S.-led coalition forces.
Mottaki met later Thursday with the leader of Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, and Damascus-based leaders of the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The visit came as Iran and Syria encountered mounting international pressure.
The West is seeking a U.N. resolution that could subject Iran to sanctions if it does not stop enriching uranium. In a separate U.N. resolution, Syria was urged to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon and respect its neighbor's full independence.
Mottaki said Iran's right to possess "nuclear power for peaceful purposes" was not negotiable.
"We warn against an escalation of the crisis in the region," said Mottaki, who spoke in Farsi through a translator.
He insisted that dialogue with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, was the only way to resolve Tehran's standoff with the West.
Iran has rejected European plans for incentives to his country to give up its uranium enrichment program.
A high-level, six-nation meeting on Iran was postponed Wednesday until at least next week, reflecting differences between the United States and its allies on one side, and the Chinese and Russians on the other.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told European Union lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, that his country wants Iran to stop its nuclear activities and renewed Moscow's offer to conduct uranium enrichment for Iran's nuclear facilities in Russia, a senior deputy said.
"He said no to Iran's military nuclear capacities, no to enrichment capacities, and he renewed his proposal that the enrichment should take place on Russian soil," said committee chairman Elmar Brok, a German conservative.
Enriching uranium in Russia for Iran would guarantee the uranium was not enriched to the high level needed for nuclear weapons
Lavrov also reiterated his opposition to the threat of sanctions or the use of force against Iran, Brok said.
Russia and China have balked at British, French and U.S. efforts for a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures, which could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action, if Tehran refuses to comply.
"One approach is immediate sanctions — economic, trade, but that will lead Iran to withdraw and become a second North Korea. Than we can only sit and wait. Or we take military action, but is there anyone in the room that wants that?" Lavrov told the lawmakers, according to the transcript of his answers to the committee, obtained by The Associated Press.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Tokyo that nations need to "be creative in finding a solution at the table" to solve the Iranian nuclear standoff.
"There is also a need to lower the temperature, and refrain from actions and rhetoric that could further inflame the situation," Annan said. "Otherwise, we will see only an increase in global tensions ... and unwelcome delays in resolving the matter."
Mottaki also criticized U.N. Security Council members for having voted for the resolution against Syria, which was approved 13-0 with China and Russia abstaining. He hinted that the U.S., France and Britain, who co-sponsored the resolution, had coaxed other members into voting for it. "We consider that forcing the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution on this (issue) is a novelty and a violation of international law," he said.
Security Council members "should show more resistance" to such resolutions, which "only weaken this institution," Mottaki said.