Iran's Khamenei calls for Syrian elections to solve crisis

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's clerical supreme leader said elections should be held in Syria to end the civil war there and criticized foreign powers that arm and fund Syrian opposition fighters, state television reported on Sunday. In an annual address to the Islamic Republic's top diplomats, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said that U.S. objectives in the Middle East were the opposite of Iran's and that negotiating with Washington on regional issues was meaningless. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attended the meeting after returning from inconclusive talks with world powers in Vienna on Friday aimed at finding a solution to the war, the first time Iran had participated in such talks. "The solution to the Syrian question is elections, and for this it is necessary to stop military and financial aid to the opposition," several state media outlets quoted Khamenei as saying. Iran has backed President Bashar al-Assad throughout Syria's conflict and sent troops to assist his army. Other regional powers, including Iran's rival Saudi Arabia, support a variety of armed rebel factions. The war, in its fifth year, has killed around 250,000 people and displaced millions more. The Vienna talks were attended by 17 countries including the United States, which has called for Assad to leave power as part of a political transition process. He has refused to do so. But Khamenei, who tolerated talks with the United States to reach a deal on Iran's disputed nuclear program in July, has ruled out negotiating with Washington on any other issue. "The Americans are trying to impose their own interests, not resolve issues, 60 or 70 percent through negotiations and the rest through illegal actions. So what is the meaning of negotiating with them?" the conservative hardline leader said. (Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)