Not long ago, a meeting between the leaders of Iran and Syria would have been seen as a summit of George Bush’s axis of evil. But Bashar al-Assad arrived in Tehran carrying Western hopes he can ease Iran’s nuclear stand-off with the West. The Syrian President’s visit coincided with the end of an informal deadline for Iran to freeze its atomic research, following his talks at the French-inspired Mediterranean Union. Iran has irritated the West by ignoring demands to abandon its research, or face new sanctions.
Tension rose this week after Iran revealed it had thousands of centrifuges working to enrich uranium, and Israel claimed Tehran was just months away from building nuclear weapons. Israel has hinted it is ready to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.
Tehran insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful. Despite being the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, Iran needs other sources to fill its domestic energy needs, while the West fears it is simply living up to its Washington-designated pariah status.