Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, presented Bashar al-Assad, left, with Iran's highest award after their meeting [AFP]

During a visit to Iran, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has said direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were only aimed at bolstering domestic support for the US president.
 
"Nothing has changed in the Palestinian peace process [which] only aims to garner support for [Barack] Obama [the US president] inside America," Assad was quoted as saying after meeting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his Iranian counterpart, in Tehran on Saturday.

Assad was speaking at the start of an official visit to Iran, during talks with Ahmadinejad who also criticised the United States and Israel, saying "America's facade has crumbled and the Zionist regime has been exposed," without specifying whether he was referring to US mediated peace talks.

"The Syrian government and nation, at the forefront of resistance, have for years stood up against the expansionism and aggression of the Zionist regime," Ahmadinejad said in reference to Israel, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency.

Smiles for the cameras

Smiling together before television cameras, Ahmadinejad awarded Assad Iran's highest medal of honour in recognition of his support for Palestinians and Lebanon and his resistance to "global arrogance" - a term which usually refers to the United States and its allies.

"We are two governments and nations which are brothers," Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony where the two presidents held their hands aloft for the cameras.

Assad said the medal was in appreciation of "the continuing and eternal stance of Syria to be on the side of Iran ... The two countries' close and continuing contacts are in the interest of the region."

The United States has tried to improve its relations with Syria, something analysts say is in part aimed at distancing the country from Iran, which Washington sees as a threat to Israel and other countries in the region.

But Assad said the "strategic relationship" between Tehran and Damascus "is necessary for the independence and the stability of the Middle East".

Secular Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran are both supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah, a Shia organisation which the US considers a terrorist group.

The leaders did not publicly talk in depth about what they discussed, but it is likely that the political situation in neighbouring Iraq and fresh sanctions against Iran, were on the agenda. 

Before returning home later on Saturday, Assad also held talks with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

Source: Agencies