TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's supreme leader said Friday that developing nations have a greater right than the U.S. or NATO to intervene in Syria, signaling an effort to lead a diplomatic push over efforts to resolve the crisis.
The comments came a day after Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi embarrassed the Islamic Republic by blasting its ally, Syria, during a speech at the summit of the Nonaligned Movement, a grouping of some 120 nations.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Friday with Syria's prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, and Damascus' delegation to the conference.
"There is a proxy war against the Syrian government, on behalf of some governments led by the U.S. and some other powers with the objective of meeting the Zionist regime's (Israeli) interests and inflicting a blow to resistance in the region," Khamenei was quoted as saying on his website.
He didn't mention Egypt. But Iran's former ambassador to Syria, Hossein Sheikholeslam, openly criticized Morsi, saying the Islamist leader had demonstrated "lack of political maturity" with his comments.
Morsi — in the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution — on Thursday called the Syrian regime "oppressive" and said the world must stand behind the Syrian rebels. That prompted a walkout by Syrian delegates to the conference.
Sheikholeslam said Morsi "made a big mistake" by condemning the Syrian government in his speech, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency
Iran sought to use the weeklong summit to assert itself on the Syrian crisis and to counter Western efforts to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies say Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons, but Iran denies the claims and says its program is for peaceful purposes.
The final summit declaration issued Friday said all countries had the right to development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It notably singled out Iran.
The statement made no mention of Syria's civil war, reflecting the huge differences among the nonaligned member states and their failure to narrow the gaps.
Tehran has faced an uphill challenge in garnering support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some in the organization — particularly Sunni Muslim majority nations — are more sympathetic with the rebels, if not outright backing them.
The U.N. and Arab League have both led ultimately failed efforts to negotiate an end to Syria's violence, in which thousands have been killed since early 2011. Turkey this week called for the U.N. to authorize creation of a safe zone in Syria for tens of thousands fleeing their homes. Britain and France have left open the possibility of more aggressive action, including a military-enforced no-fly zone to protect a safe area — though that still seems a remote possibility.
"The Nonaligned Movement definitely has more political right than the U.S., NATO or some European countries to intervene in the Syrian issue," Khamenei said. He did not elaborate on what kind of role the group should have.
But the Nonaligned Movement, an organization formed in the Cold War as an alternative to both the Soviet and U.S. blocs, has little cohesiveness or international weight now to push a Syria initiative. And its members are divided over Syria.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Friday complained that some nonaligned member states arm the rebels.
"Unfortunately, some regional countries, that are also members of the nonaligned movement, are providing weapons and military training as well as money to the armed groups to destroy Syria's infrastructure," he told Iranian state TV Friday.
Al-Moallem didn't name any country but last month he openly accused regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of trying to destroy Syria by supporting the rebels.
Iran, Syria's key remaining ally in the Middle East, has provided Assad's government with military and political backing for years, and has kept up its strong support for the regime since the uprising began in March 2011. Syrian activists say at least 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Tehran has urged Damascus to listen to the Syrian people's "legitimate demands" but has strongly opposed shipment of weapons to the rebels.
"The main culprits in the Syrian issue are those who have paved the way for flooding shipments of arms into Syria as well as financial support for the irresponsible groups," state TV quoted Khamenei as saying Friday. "The Syrian government should remove excuses from the opponents, continue political reforms and expose behind-the-curtain facts for the Arab public opinion."
Iran has already proposed a three-month cease-fire to pave the way for national reconciliation talks between the Syrian government and the opponents.
Anti-regime fighters have dismissed any role for Iran in such a plan. The rebels say it has little hope of succeeding. Also, the United States has rejected Iranian participation in international meetings on the Syrian crisis.
Iran also has been seeking to win support from the bloc, accounting for nearly two-thirds of U.N. member states, for its nuclear program. Tehran has used the summit to try to show that U.S.-led efforts to isolate it have failed.
The final summit declaration said all countries should be able to exercise their "inalienable right to development, research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without prejudice" and in accordance with the relevant legal obligations.
"The decision and choice of states, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the field of peaceful use of nuclear technology and their policies in the field of the fuel cycle has to be respected," it said.
It also condemned unilateral economic sanctions, a clear reference to U.S.-led punitive measures against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
The declaration was approved a day after the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Iran has effectively shut down a probe of Parchin military site in southeast Tehran where Iran is suspected of carrying out explosive tests related to a nuclear weapon trigger.