Syria Rejects U.S. Criticism of its Presidential Vote, Says U.S. Should Solve Own Problems in Iraq

A Syrian foreign ministry official rejected Wednesday the U.S. State Department's criticism of the vote that won President Bashar Assad a second term, saying United States should solve its own problems in Iraq first.

In the Sunday referendum in which he was the only contestant, Assad secured another seven years in office, getting 97.62 percent of the votes. The U.S. State Department denounced the vote in unusually blunt terms, sarcastically noting Assad's "ability to have defeated exactly zero other candidates."

"Clearly there was no real choice here for the Syrian people," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "You know, your choice is between vanilla, vanilla and vanilla and I don't think that's one that offers a variety of flavors and identities for the Syrian people to choose from."

The state SANA news agency quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying that Syria's "advice" to the United States is "to stop interfering in the affairs of others and try solve the problems they brought to their country, such as the wrong war in Iraq."

The Syrian official also wondered whether the "democracy that they (U.S.) accept is only the one in which the results are in the interest of those they support."

Assad, a British-educated ophthalmologist, became president after the death of his father, Hafez Assad, in 2000. In his first referendum, he also received 97 percent approval.

The Syrian Parliament, at a special session held late Tuesday, officially endorsed Assad's re-election amid bursts of applause from legislators and celebrations on Damascus streets and in other Syrian cities.

Assad was expected to be sworn in before the July 17 end of his current term. He has said the current Cabinet would stay on.