Text size

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that Arab nations will usher in a new Middle East without Zionists and without colonialists.

Ahmadinejad made the comments during his visit in Syria, where he met with President Bashar Assad, opening a two-day visit that follows U.S. efforts to break up Syria's 30-year alliance with Tehran.

The Iranian president also said that "if the Zionist regime wants to repeat its past mistakes, this will constitute its demise and annihilation."

Assad signaled his strong support for Iran, saying America's stance toward the country is a "new situation of colonialism in the region."

Ahmadinejad said Iran, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon will all stand against Israel.

"(The Americans) want to dominate the region but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that," Ahmadinejad said during a news conference with Assad. "We tell them that instead of interfering in the region's affairs, to pack their things and leave."

Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to meet senior officials from the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria's state-run news agency said.

Before leaving Tehran, Ahmadinejad told reporters that 'the Zionist regime and its sponsors' are rapidly approaching a dead-end, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. Ahmadinejad also said that Iran and Syria have common viewpoints and stances and Syria is on the frontline against Israel.

A string of high-profile visits to Damascus in recent months - from the U.S., France, and now Iran - shows Syria's strategic importance in the Middle East.

U.S. 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.

A Syrian government newspaper stressed the alliance between Damascus and Tehran. After more than three decades of brotherly relations and friendship, Syria and Iran can confirm again their confidence in each other, the state-owned Al-Baath newspaper said in its leading article Thursday.

Ahmedinejad's trip comes on the heels of several important overtures to Syria by the U.S., including the nomination of the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005.

Assad is hoping for U.S. 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 winning the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the decision to send an ambassador to Syria does not mean U.S. concerns about the country have been addressed.

Speaking to lawmakers, Clinton said the nomination of career diplomat Robert Ford is a sign of a slight opening with Syria. But she said Washington remains troubled by suspected Syrian support for militant groups in Iraq and elsewhere, interference in Lebanon and Syria's close relationship with Iran.

Former President George W. Bush withdrew the last U.S. ambassador to Syria in 2005 to protest its actions in Lebanon after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, 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.

Ahmadinejad's last visit to Syria was in May.