Syria's President: Alliance With Iran Won't be Shaken

Inaugurating two joint Syrian-Iranian projects, President Bashar Assad said Thursday his country's strategic alliance with Iran will not be shaken under any circumstances.

Assad's comments, carried by the state-run SANA news agency, came during the inauguration of joint Syrian-Iranian car and cement plants in central and northern Syria. The Syrian leader was accompanied by visiting Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoodi.

They were likely a response to reports that Syrian-Iranian relations allegedly cooled after Damascus attended last month the U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

Although Iran did not directly criticize ally Syria for attending the summit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials denounced the conference.

"Inaugurating the plant in partnership with the Iranian brothers and officials is a response to those who tried to circulate ... that relations between the two countries have been shaken," Assad said at the opening of the auto factory in Hasya, in the northern province of Homs, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the Syrian capital, Damascus.

"I confirm, on this occasion, that relations will not be shaken for any reason or under any circumstance," Assad said.

The International Syrian-Iranian Factory for Cars, "Saipa", the second car venture between the two countries in less than a year, will have an initial production capacity of up to 15,000 SABA cars a year and would likely increase to reach 35,000 cars annually at its final stage, SANA said. The project's capital is $50 millions (euro34 million), it said.

In March, Syria and Iran inaugurated the first joint car project in the industrial city of Adra near Damascus. The "Sham" car is produced in Syria.

Assad and Davoodi also inaugurated a new cement plant in the northern city of Hama, some 210 kilometers (130 miles) northwest of the Syrian capital. The factory that had cost $250 million (euro170.3 million) has a production capacity of 1.1 million tons annually, SANA said.

The project, which would create some 400 jobs, was initially agreed upon during a visit by then Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to Syria in mid 1999.

The project is financed by the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development and the Iranian company has provided all the necessary equipment.

Syria and Iran have growing economic ties, with the annual two-way trade estimated at about $200 million (euro136 million). The size of Iranian investments in Syria has reached around $2 billions (euro1.36 billion) in sectors such as power generation, automobiles, cement and agriculture.

Syria is Iran's closest Arab ally. The two countries have had close relations since 1980 when Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.