By Samia Nakhoul
President Al-Assad warns of repercussions of military attack against Islamic republic.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad warned on Monday that an assault on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme would have grave consequences for the United States, Israel and the world.
"It will cost the United States and the planet dear," Al-Assad said in an interview with France Inter radio. "Israel will pay directly the price of this war. Iran has said so."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a senior official not to interfere in the nuclear dispute with the West, in what analysts see as a sign of internal concern that the president's hardline tactics are further isolating his country.
Speculation about a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities mounted following a report that the Israeli air force rehearsed for such an attack. The United States has refused to rule out military action if diplomacy fails to stop Iran's atomic enrichment.
Al-Assad warned this would set of an uncontrollable chain reaction in the Middle East "over years or even decades". Logic was against it, he said, but the administration of President George W. Bush was locked in a "warmonger doctrine".
Iran denies it is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic programme. Israel, widely believed to possess the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has sworn to prevent Iran from attaining atomic weapons.
Iranian tested medium and long-range missiles last week, further stoking tension. Fears of war helped send global oil prices to record highs.
Ahmadinejad has warned that the Islamic republic's response to an attack would be quick and harsh. Critics at home say his speeches are provocative.
Ali Akbar Velayati, who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed unusual public criticism about government language in the nuclear row.
Ahmadinejad said Velayati was a respected man and entitled to his opinion "but he is not involved in nuclear decision making". Khamenei, who has the last word, has praised Ahmadinejad for his handling of the issue.
Tehran has so far refused to halt its uranium enrichment work, but is ready to continue nuclear talks with major powers.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have offered to hold preliminary talks ahead of formal discussions, say Western diplomats. But Iran must freeze any expansion of its nuclear programme, in return for the UN Security Council halting further sanctions against it.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana was due to meet Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in Geneva on July 19.
Iran's deputy Defence Minister Nasrullah Ezatti said on Monday that the test-firings "helped the Islamic Republic to go to the negotiating table with a full hand".
"The other party had claimed that Iran should first accept suspension of enrichment so there would be the possibility of negotiation," Ezatti said. But "it was ultimately the opposing party which succumbed to the Iranian desire".
Al-Assad said he would also help mediate with Syria's ally, in response to a request from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"We are going to have discussions with our Iranian friends to get to the heart of the matter, to the details. This is the first time that we had been asked to play a role," Al-Assad said.
Nuclear row aside, Iran's basketball is on its way to the United States for a rare sporting encounter with the Americans.
"After many requests made to Iran by the US basketball federation and after a review of the request by Iranian officials we accepted this invitation," Mohammad Mashoun, head of Iran's basketball federation, told newswire Reuters. (Reuters)