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The presidents of Iran and Syria on Thursday ridiculed U.S. policy in the region and pledged to create a Middle East “without Zionists,” combining a slap at recent U.S. overtures and a threat to Israel with an endorsement of one of the region’s defining alliances.

The Obama administration is trying to build an international coalition behind economic sanctions aimed at curbing Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, which the United States and others fear is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. The United States also recently announced that it will send an ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence, part of an effort to weaken Syria’s relations with Iran and discourage the country’s support for militant groups antagonistic to Israel.

But the message delivered by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a joint news conference was sharp and spoke to a shared sense that Iran is gaining influence in the region despite U.S. efforts. Until the outcome of the broader struggle over Iran’s nuclear program becomes clear, analysts here say, it is unlikely Syria will change direction — or that progress can be made toward an Israel-Syria peace agreement.

The United States wants “to dominate the region, but they feel Iran and Syria are preventing that,” Ahmadinejad said. “We tell them that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.” Washington Post

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