DAMASCUS, Syria – Iran and Syria condemned a U.S. plan to assist rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad on Saturday and signaled the Syrian leader intends to stay in power at least until 2014 presidential elections.
The remarks came against the backdrop of a strategic victory for the regime as the military regained control over a string of villages along a key highway to open a potential supply route in Syria’s contested north.
The army command boasted of the achievement in a statement, saying it had eradicated the remnants of “terrorist agents and mercenaries” in the area that links the government-controlled central city of Hama with Aleppo’s international airport.
The reversal of gains, confirmed by Syrian activists, has the potential to change the outcome of the battle in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, where government troops and rebels have been locked in a stalemate for months.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday that the Obama administration was giving an additional $60 million in assistance to Syria’s political opposition and would, for the first time, provide nonlethal aid directly to the rebels.
Assad told the Sunday Times, in an interview timed to coincide with Kerry’s first foreign trip as the top U.S. diplomat, that “the intelligence, communication and financial assistance being provided is very lethal.”
In response to the U.S. decision, the Syrian and Iranian foreign ministers accused Washington of having double standards and warned it will only delay an end to the civil war.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, also set clear parameters for any future talks with the opposition, saying that whether Assad stays or goes will be decided in presidential elections scheduled for next year. Salehi went further to say Assad may run for another term.