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DAMASCUS, Syria – Syrian President Bashar Assad defied U.S. calls to loosen ties with Iran on Thursday, saying his long-standing alliance with Tehran remains strong despite overtures from Washington intended to shift his loyalties.
The U.S. has reached out to Syria in recent months by nominating the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005 and sending top diplomats to meet with President Bashar Assad. Washington is hoping to draw Syria away from Iran and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
But with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by his side in Damascus, Assad said Thursday that America should not dictate relationships in the Middle East.
President Barack Obama is determined to engage with Syria, a country seen as key to peace in the region but which the State Department considers a sponsor of terrorism.
"Syria was supported by Iran, Iran helped Syria maintain its regime," he said. "Mr. Obama's engagement policy has not worked yet."