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Ahmadinejad talks with Syrian ally before journey to U.S.

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The Iranian leader spoke of expanding relations with Syria
  • He will be in the United States for U.N. meetings
  • CNN's Larry King will interview him Wednesday

(CNN) -- On his way to the United States, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took time Saturday to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally in the Islamic republic's confrontation with the West.

After a two-hour meeting with his Syrian counterpart at the Damascus airport, Ahmadinejad flew to Algeria on the second leg of a trip that will bring him to the United States, Iranian state media reported.

The meeting followed al-Assad's talks on Middle East peace with George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special envoy for the region.

Ahmadinejad and al-Assad discussed the fresh round of peace talks, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Ahmadinejad said peace talks would fail unless "true representatives of the Palestinian people" participated in the negotiations.

"The Islamic republic believes that the only way to resolve the Palestine problem is through the people's vote," the hardline leader told state-run IRIIN TV.

He also said stronger ties between Iran and Syria would benefit the Muslim world and build regional security. The two men spoke of the need to enhance the level of the economic and developmental cooperation, particularly issues of strategic nature like oil, gas, railways and increasing tourist communication between the two peoples.

In Algeria, Ahmadinejad met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, where the two discussed the importance of expanding relations between their countries, Iran's state-run Press TV reported.

Ahmadinejad is expected to arrive in the United States on Sunday, the same day as American hiker Sarah Shourd returns home after a 14-month detention in a Tehran jail.

Ahmadinejad discussed Shourd in a televised address Friday, saying that her release was a unilateral gesture made without any promise of a quid pro quo, but that doesn't mean Iranian officials wouldn't appreciate a similar act from the United States.

"We have no expectations," he told IRINN. "But naturally, morally, the expectation would be that the U.S. government would take a step to release a number of Iranians that they took from other countries."

Ahmadinejad said the United States is holding a number of Iranians.

"The expectation is that you would release them," he said, noting that Iran has provided the United States with a list of those Iranians imprisoned in the United States.

"They need to be freed and sent back to their families," he said.

Ahmadinejad plans to attend the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The controversial president is slated to appear on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday.