Syria and Iran said Saturday that Washington’s decision to provide aid to rebels will only prolong the fighting aimed at toppling President Bashar Assad whose troops scored a major strategic victory in the country’s heavily contested north.
Syrian troops regained control of several villages along a key highway near the embattled northern city of Aleppo, restoring stability to the city’s international airport, the Army’s General Command said in a statement. The achievement has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Syria’s largest city where government troops have been locked in a stalemate for months.
In Tehran, Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers accused the U.S. of having a double standard on its policy regarding Syria. They said the U.S. decision to provide rebels with aid will only delay an end to the nearly 2-year-old conflict that has killed at 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The remarks by Syria’s Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, were the first official statements from the two nations following U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement this week that the U.S. will provide, for the first time, non-lethal aid directly to Syria’s rebels, in addition to $60 million in assistance to Syria’s political opposition.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Tehran, the Syrian and Iranian diplomats emphasized that whether Assad stays or goes will be decided in presidential elections scheduled for next year.
“Assad is Syria’s legal president until the next elections. Individuals have the freedom to run as candidates. Until that time, Assad is Syria’s president,” Salehi said.
Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and has stood by the embattled Assad throughout the conflict.
Kerry announced the aid at an international conference on Syria in Rome on Thursday. In coming days, several European nations are expected to take similar steps to work with the military wing of the opposition to increase pressure on Assad to step down and pave the way for a democratic transition.