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.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on 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.
In their first official statements on the 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. Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime and has stood by the embattled Assad.
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.
"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 at a joint news conference in Tehran.
Al-Moallem said the Syrian people have the right to choose their leaders through the ballot box.
Syrian gain: The Syrian military said it regained control over villages along a key highway to open a potential supply route in the contested north. The army command said it had eradicated the remnants of "terrorist agents and mercenaries" near Hama and Aleppo airport.