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Morsi’s comments angered the Syrian delegation, which walked out in protest, according to Syria’s state-run media.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who is also in Tehran, was quoted by the state-owned Al-Ikhbariya TV as saying: “Morsi’s comments violated the traditions of the summit and are considered interference in Syrian internal affairs.” He also accused Morsi of “instigating blood shedding in Syria.”

Iran is Syria’s closest ally in the Middle East.

Morsi is an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful political force to emerge from last year’s uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak. The Sunni fundamentalist group opposes Shiite Iran’s staunch backing of the Syrian regime and its lethal crackdown on the largely Sunni opposition. Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Assad, speaking in a rare TV interview broadcast on Wednesday, said his armed forces will need time to defeat the rebels — an acknowledgement of the difficulties the military is facing in winning the civil war.

A member of Syria’s main opposition group said his comments aimed to explain his security forces’ failure in putting down the rebellion. British-based opposition activist Ausama Monajed, who is a member of the Syrian National Council, said in a telephone interview that Assad’s statements tried to “justify the failure of the security solution.”

“He is trying to boost the morale of his supporters. He is trying to justify the failure of the military solution that has been going on for months,” Monajed said. “His comments were addressed to his constituency.”

Activists estimate more than 20,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad’s began more than 17 months ago.