ABU DHABI - The Syrian people should be left to choose their leader in elections due in 2014 and until then countries should avoid aggravating the bloodshed by interfering on the ground, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Monday.

Iran has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the 16-month uprising in Syria, a rare ally amidst widespread condemnation of a crackdown on dissent that has left thousands dead.

Syria, led by members of a sect related to Shi'ite Islam, accuses the Sunni-led Gulf monarchies of supporting unrest among its Sunni majority as a way to check rising Shi'ite influence in the region, most notably that of Shi'ite Iran.

Far from urging Assad to step down, as the West and many Middle Eastern countries have done, Salehi said he should stay at least until elections in 2014.

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