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Egypt leader slams Syrian regime during Iran visit

- Associated Press - Thursday, August 30, 2012

TEHRAN — In a clear rebuke to Syria's key ally, Iran, Egypt's new president said Thursday that Bashar Assad's "oppressive" regime has lost its legitimacy and told an international conference in Tehran that the world must stand behind the Syrian rebels.

The rallying call by Mohammed Morsi — making the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution — showed the huge divide between Iran's stalwart support of Mr. Assad and the growing network of regional powers pushing for his downfall.

It also drove home the difficulties for Iran as host of a gathering of the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era group that Tehran seeks to transform into a powerful bloc to challenge Western influence.

Iran's leaders say the weeklong meeting, which wraps up Friday, displays the inability of the West's attempt to isolate the country over its nuclear program.

But Iran has been forced to endure stinging criticism from its highest-level participant, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited concerns about Iran's human rights record and said Iran's condemnations of Israel were unacceptable.

Mr. Morsi's address to the gathering further pushed Iran into a corner. In effect, he demanded that Iran join the growing anti-Assad consensus or risk being further estranged from Egypt and other regional heavyweights, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Morsi has proposed that Iran take part in a four-nation contact group that would include Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to mediate an end to the Syrian crisis.

Mr. Ban, the U.N. chief, also said Iran has a key role to play in finding a solution to end Syria's civil war, which activists say has claimed at least 20,000 lives.

But Iran has given no signals of breaking ties with Mr. Assad, and the Syrian rebels fighting the regime say they reject Iran's participation in any peace efforts.

"The bloodshed in Syria is the responsibility of all of us and will not stop until there is real intervention to stop it," Mr. Morsi said. "The Syrian crisis is bleeding our hearts."

Syrian delegates to the conference walked out during Mr. Morsi's speech.

"Morsi's comments violated the traditions of the summit and are considered interference in Syrian internal affairs," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who was heading the Syrian delegation.

He also accused Mr. Morsi of "instigating bloodshed in Syria," according to quotes reported by the state-owned Al-Ikhbariya TV. He didn't elaborate.

In another possible dig at Iran, Mr. Morsi gave credit to the Arab Spring wave of uprisings that put him in power and touched off the civil war in Syria.

Iran has endorsed many of the revolts — describing them as a modern-day reflection of its Islamic Revolution more than three decades ago — but denounces the Syrian uprising as orchestrated by "enemies" that include Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

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