FREE SYRIAN Army fighters pose on a tank 370 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters)
Iran does not believe Syrian President Bashar Assad and his government are about to fall, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Tuesday.
Asked after talks in Moscow about Western suggestions that Assad and his government might soon be ousted, he told Reuters through a translator: "We have serious doubts about that. The Syrian army and the state machine are working smoothly."
Like Russia, Iran has been a staunch ally of Assad throughout the 21-month uprising against his rule.
The minister dismissed suggestions that Moscow had altered its stance on Syria, despite remarks by a senior Russian diplomat last week acknowledging that Assad's opponents could win the conflict.
"During our talks with our Russian partners, we have found there has been no change in the Russian position on Syria," he told a news conference.
Russia has shielded Assad's government from UN Security Council censure and sanctions, resisting Western pressure to join efforts to push him from power.
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Russia sends warships to Syria for possible evacuation
Russia sent warships to the Mediterranean to prepare a potential evacuation of its citizens from Syria, a Russian news agency said on Tuesday, a sign Assad's key ally is worried about rebel advances that now threaten even the capital.
Moscow acted a day after insurgents waging a 21-month-old uprising obtained a possible springboard for a thrust into Damascus by seizing the Yarmouk Palestinian camp just 2 miles from the heart of the city, activists said.
The anti-Assad opposition has posted significant military and diplomatic gains in recent weeks, capturing a series of army installations across Syria and securing formal recognition from Western and Arab states for its new coalition.
Assad's pivotal allies have largely stood behind him. But Russia, his main arms supplier, appeared to waver this week with contradictory statements repeating opposition to Assad stepping down and airing concerns about a possible rebel victory.
Russia's Interfax news agency quoted unnamed naval sources on Tuesday as saying that two assault ships, a tanker and an escort vessel had left a Baltic port for the Mediterranean Sea, where Russia has a port in Syria's coastal city of Tartus.
"They are heading to the Syrian coast to assist in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens ... Preparations for the deployment were carried out in a hurry and were heavily classified," the Russian agency quoted the source as saying.
It was not possible to independently verify the report, which came a day after Russia confirmed that two citizens working in Syria were kidnapped along with an Italian citizen.
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