(File image) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Dubai - Iran said on Thursday it would stand by its ally Syria, despite mounting international pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down to end a 16-month uprising against his rule.

Iran's Press TV quoted first Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi as saying Tehran's support for Syria was “unchangeable”, countering suggestions that Iran could soften its backing for Assad, the Shi'ite Muslim republic's closest Arab ally.

“The Iranian people have an unchangeable stance on Syrians and will always stand by them,” Rahimi was quoted as saying, accusing major powers of uniting to damage the Syrian nation.

Despite lauding popular uprisings in other Arab countries as an “Islamic awakening”, Iran has dismissed opposition to Assad's rule as a foreign conspiracy.

A statement earlier this month by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that Tehran was ready to host talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups suggested a possible policy shift.

In a concrete sign of support for the Syrian authorities, a delegation of Syrian ministers visited Tehran on Thursday, agreeing a deal on importing Iranian electricity via Iraq.

“We agreed with Iran that in one month agreements be made with Iraq so that, putting problems to one side, electricity imports from Iran begin,” the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) quoted Imad Khamis, Syria's electricity minister, as saying.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government, which is close to Iran, has called for reform in Syria rather than an end to Assad's rule. - Reuters