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'Syria's Assad to run for president in 2014'

On the ground, at least 16 rebels and 10 soldiers were killed in a ferocious dawn battle on the outskirts of a strategic city near the Turkish border as the army said it had recaptured an important highway leading to second city Aleppo. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was in Tehran on Saturday for talks on the nearly two-year conflict which has killed at least 70,000, according to UN estimates. At a news conference with Muallem, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said "in the next election, President Assad, like others, will take part, and the Syrian people will elect whomever they want." The "official position of Iran is that... Assad will remain legitimate president until the next... election" in 2014, Salehi said. Assad took over as president in 2000 following the death of his father Hafez who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years. A new constitution adopted in February 2012 stipulates that he can run for the presidency twice from 2014, which means he could stay at the helm until 2028 if re-elected. Salehi on Saturday also backed a call by Damascus for talks with the armed opposition, calling the initiative a "positive step," but reiterated that Assad's regime has "no choice" but to keep fighting rebels. "We believe that the crisis has no military solution and only a Syrian political one," he said. "Iran firstly wants a stop to the bloodshed but the Syrian government has no choice but to fight against the terrorists and we cannot ask the Syrian government not to do so and leave them alone." Muallem's visit comes after a week of intense international diplomacy aimed at ending the bloodshed.

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