Ahmadinejad craves Zionist-free ME

In Damascus, Assad calls US stance on Iran "new colonialism."

Assad Ahmadinejad 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Assad Ahmadinejad 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The United States should pack up and leave the Middle East and stay out of regional affairs, Iran's president said Thursday during a visit to Damascus that follows a string of US efforts to break up Syria's 30-year alliance with Teheran.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Arab nations will usher in a new Middle East "without Zionists and without colonialists."
"[The Americans] want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that," Ahmadinejad said during a news conference with Syrian President Bashar Assad. "We tell them that instead of interfering in the region's affairs, to pack their things and leave."
He said that "if the Zionist regime wants to repeat its past mistakes, this will constitute its demise and annihilation."
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Ahmadinejad said Iran, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will stand against Israel.
Assad signaled his strong support for Iran, saying America's stance on Iran "is a new situation of colonialism in the region."
A string of high-profile visits to Damascus in recent months — from the US, France, and now Iran — shows Syria's strategic importance in the Middle East.
US President Barack Obama is determined to engage with Syria, a country seen as key to peace in the region but which the State Department has long considered a state sponsor of terrorism.
Ahmadinejad's trip comes amid rising US tension with Teheran over the country's nuclear program. The US and others believe Iran is hiding nuclear weapons development under the guise of a civilian energy program. Iran insists that its intentions are peaceful.
Still, Assad could be open to a breakthrough with the Americans. He is hoping for US help in boosting a weak economy and for American mediation in direct peace talks with Israel — a recognition that he needs American involvement to achieve his top goal of the Golan Heights.
But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the recent decision to send the first US ambassador to Syria in five years does not mean US concerns about the country have been addressed.
Speaking to lawmakers, Clinton said the nomination of career diplomatRobert Ford is a sign of a "slight opening" with Syria. But she saidWashington remains troubled by suspected Syrian support for terrorgroups in Iraq and elsewhere, interference in Lebanon and Syria's closerelationship with Iran.
Former President George W. Bush withdrewthe last US ambassador to Syria in 2005 to protest its actions inLebanon after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister RafikHariri, which his supporters blamed on Syria.
Washington also has retained its sanctions on Damascus. The sanctions were first imposed by Bush and renewed by Obama in May.