Syrian television showed an Iranian delegation led by the aide, Saeed Jalili, at the presidential palace in Damascus during President Bashar al-Assad’s first televised appearance since a bomb killed four of his top security officials last month. The backdrop of the meeting was a serious escalation in the war, with rebel brigades and Syrian fighter jets facing off in Aleppo, Syria’s largest metropolis, as opposition groups reported shelling or clashes in more than a dozen cities and towns.
Mr. Jalili, a top diplomat who is also the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said Iran would not accept any interference from outside powers in the 17-month-old conflict in Syria, a country that has been a vital piece of Iran’s power projection in the Middle East since the Islamic Revolution three decades ago.
With Mr. Assad’s hold on power appearing more tenuous by the day, the visit underscored Iran’s increasingly dogmatic view of the conflict.
“What is happening in Syria is not an internal Syrian issue but a conflict between the axis of the resistance and its enemies in the region and the world,” Mr. Jalili said in comments reported on Syrian state television. He added: “Iran will not tolerate, in any form, the breaking of the axis of the resistance, of which Syria is an intrinsic part.”
The comments came as Iran completed plans to host a meeting on Thursday with other allies of Syria, which it has not identified, to discuss the conflict.
In tone and substance, Iranian officials seem to be recasting Syria’s role in the region in the same uncompromising rhetoric of Iran’s battle with the West over its nuclear program. As Iran suffocates under international anti-nuclear sanctions, its leaders appear to have bundled Syria’s fight with their own, warning countries to stop meddling with Mr. Assad.
Iranian political analysts in the West said Iran’s leaders, having aligned themselves with the Syrian government for so long, also feel more than ever that they have no other recourse but to stick with Mr. Assad, even if his government has committed harsh abuses. His adversaries, both in and out of Syria, have expressed deep antipathy for Iran. If they took power, they would most likely move to undo an alliance that has been a fundamental piece of Iranian foreign policy.
“Iran, in a lot of ways, has no Plan B,” said Alireza Nader, an expert on Iran at the Washington offices of the RAND Corporation, a research group. “I think the main issue is that Iranian foreign policy has become so rigid that it’s hard to come up with a Plan B. They’ve built this framework of resistance that’s hard to escape.”
Mr. Jalili’s visit, which was also an attempt to secure the release of 45 Iranian hostages held by Syrian rebels, appeared to strain relations with Turkey, an important trading partner that has been alienated by Mr. Assad. The Foreign Ministry in Turkey — where Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, was visiting — issued a strong rebuke.
“It is unacceptable and irresponsible that Iranian officials in various posts continue to target our country through their statements,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Seeking to shift blame back to Mr. Assad, it added: “Everyone knows who, inside and outside Syria, is responsible for the human tragedy caused by the Syrian regime. They will be called to account by history and human conscience.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling in South Africa, also warned against turning Syria into a proving ground for outside interests. “Those who are attempting to exploit the misery of the Syrian people, either by sending in proxies or sending in terrorist fighters, must recognize that that will not be tolerated, first and foremost by the Syrian people,” she said.
Accounts of the Assad-Jalili meeting in Syria’s state news media emphasized the view that Mr. Assad’s government was resilient and in control. Syria television reported that Mr. Assad had assured Mr. Jalili that the Syrian people would make sure that “foreign projects” in Syria failed as the government pursued its enemies “without complacency.”
According to Iranian news reports, Mr. Jalili told Mr. Assad that “we should not allow the enemies to take revenge” for what Iran views as the defeat of Israel in 2006 and 2009 in wars with “the resistance front,” a strategic alliance of the Iran, Syria, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement and the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon.
The two leaders were also likely to have discussed the Iranian hostages. Although the substance of that discussion was not divulged, Iran’s state news agencies reported that the mass abduction in Damascus on Sunday was the impetus for the visit. Iran has insisted that the hostages were religious pilgrims, and that the kidnapping illustrates rebel brutality. The rebels called the Iranians spies.
The standoff intensified on Monday when the brigade holding the Iranians said three had been killed by Syrian Army shelling and it threatened to kill the rest if the bombardment resumed. Iran, in turn, issued a vague threat against the United States and its allies. “The Iranian nation will not ignore these crimes,” Ali Larijani, Iran’s head of Parliament, told the Islamic Students News Agency.
Iranian news media also reported that the Foreign Ministry had summoned the ranking diplomat at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles American interests in the absence of diplomatic relations, to protest the hostage-taking and warn that Iran considers the United States responsible for the well-being of the captives.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, confirmed that the Swiss had been summoned but declined to discuss details. He said that the United States did not know the identity of the captive Iranians, that it wanted all captives in Syria to be treated humanely, and that Iran’s warning did not “seem to make any sense.”
Some analysts said the hostage focus was simply theater directed by Iranian leaders. “They will just negotiate with Turkey and Qatar for their release,” said Sarkis Naoum, an analyst and columnist in Lebanon.
It was possible, some analysts said, that Mr. Jalili visited to test the strength of the government and explore how to protect Iran’s interests if Mr. Assad falls.
Andrew J. Tabler, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the rapidly evolving situation in Syria was pushing Iran to face a dilemma of logistics and politics. “When push comes to shove, how much would they do to save Assad?” he said.
Iran now finds itself on the opposite side of Middle East chaos. In Iraq, it had an interest in fueling an insurgency to pin down the Americans, but in Syria, Iran benefits from state control and stability. Entropy and war keep Mr. Assad from assisting with Iran’s battle against Israel and Iran’s protracted fight over the right to enrich uranium, which its adversaries suspect is a cover for the development of nuclear weapons. Iran contends that its uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes.
Some analysts said Iran’s hand had been forced by the breakdown of a diplomatic effort to find a solution in Syria through the United Nations and multilateral meetings, which suffered a severe blow last week when Kofi Annan, the diplomat leading that effort, resigned in frustration. Without a way to negotiate, and with other regional powers like Turkey and Saudi Arabia more open in their support of the Syrian opposition, Iran appears to have decided that it, too, must show it has joined the fight.
“Iran is saying: ‘We are involved. We are inside the battle,’ ” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese political analyst and an expert on Iran. He added, “It means this is now a more international war.”
Reporting was contributed by an employee of The New York Times in Aleppo, Syria; Dalal Mawad and Hwaida Saad from Beirut; Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran; Lydia Polgreen from Johannesburg; Steven Lee Myers from Washington; and Rick Gladstone from New York.R Soft Web Hosting