Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem condemned on Saturday a move by the United States to give non-lethal aid to rebels who are fighting to topple President Bashar Assad
, accusing Washington of double standards.
"I do not understand how the United States can give support to groups that kill the Syrian people," he said during a press conference in Tehran with Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's
"This is nothing but a double-standard policy ... one who seeks a political solution does not punish the Syrian people," he said.
The remarks were the first official statements from Syria following US Secretary of State John Kerry's announcement this week that Washington 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, Al-Moallem and Salehi stressed 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 country's nearly 2-year-old conflict.
Al-Moallem said Syria is facing a crisis in which "most of the universe" is taking part.
He directly accused Turkey and Qatar, as well as other countries he did not name, of supporting and funding "armed terrorist groups" operating in Syria, using the terminology employed by the Damascus regime to refer to the rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Al-Moallem said it was inconceivable that Washington allocates $60 million in assistance to Syrian opposition groups while continuing to "kill the Syrian people" through economic sanctions imposed against the country.
"If they truly wanted a political settlement they wouldn't punish the Syrian people and finance (opposition) groups with so-called non-lethal aid," he said. "Who are they kidding?"
The Damascus official stressed that Syria's sovereignty is a "red line."
"No one is allowed to infringe on Syrian national sovereignty," he said, adding that the Syrian people will decide their own leaders through the ballot box. "We refuse to be a piece of chess in the hands of the international community."
His Iranian host, Salehi, said "double standards were being applied by certain countries that serve to prolong and deepen the Syrian crisis" and lead to more bloodshed.
state media have also criticized the Obama administration's decision to provide aid to rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, warning that the move could harm US interests in the Middle East.
An editorial in the state-run daily newspaper Al-Thawra says that by supplying opposition forces with financial and other non-lethal aid, Washington is supporting terrorism in Syria.
The paper warned on Saturday that the decision could backfire. The government refers to rebels fighting Assad's troops as terrorists seeking to destroy the country.
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday that the United States will provide food and medical supplies directly to the rebels for the first time since the conflict began nearly two years ago. Kerry also pledged an additional $60 million in assistance to Syria's political opposition.
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