TEHRAN -- Egypt's new president likely caused deep unease among his hosts here Thursday when he assailed Syria, a close ally of Iran, as "an oppressive regime" before a summit of so-called nonaligned nations.
"We express our solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people against an oppressive regime that has lost legitimacy," Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi told the assembled delegates. “It is not only an ethical duty but a political and strategic necessity."
Iran is a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government is a key member of the Tehran-proclaimed "axis of resistance" against the United States and Israel, along with Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based group.
Morsi’s comments were a direct contradiction of Tehran’s oft-stated view that Assad's government is being undercut by "terrorists" backed by the United States and other foreign powers hostile to Iran. The Egyptian president left no doubt that he views the Syrian rebellion, now entering its 18th month, as a popular uprising against a repressive dictatorship.
"The blood of the Syrian people is on our necks, and it will not stop unless there is an intervention by all of us," Morsi said, calling for a transition to a representative government in Syria, where the Assad family has ruled for more than 40 years.
There were conflicting reports on whether the Syrian delegation walked out of the summit in response to Morsi's remarks.
Iran's leaders have lauded Morsi's visit to the summit -- where more than 100 nations are said to be represented -- as a diplomatic breakthrough and a sign that Iran is a major global power. Relations have long been strained between Tehran and Cairo.
Morsi, who ascended to the presidency following the "Arab Spring" overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, is the first Egyptian head of state to visit Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 ousted the U.S.–backed monarchy of the Shah of Iran.
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-- Ramin Mostaghim
Reem Abdellatif in Cairo and Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.