Syria should heed the will of its people by implementing political reforms and allowing free elections, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Tehran in remarks reported by Iranian media Friday.
"The Syrian regime should be receptive to the will of its people, who want elections and democracy," Erdogan said, according to an interview aired on Iranian state television late Thursday.
"If (President) Bashar al-Assad is not afraid, and is confident about his regime, he should allow the formation of new (political) parties," Erdogan said.
Assad's Baath party controls political life in Syria, where a year-long uprising is now raging. The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have died in the revolt, which many fear has brought Syria to the verge of civil war.
Turkey, Syria's northern neighbour, has been a vocal critic of Assad's deadly crackdown. Erdogan said his country was now hosting more than 17,000 Syrian refugees.
Erdogan also called for close cooperation between Ankara and Tehran, which has supported the Damascus regime, so that "elections are held in Syria."
"If Assad wins the elections, Turkey will not have any problems with him," Erdogan said before flying to Iran's northeastern holy city of Mashhad to meet the Islamic republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Erdogan was quoted by state media as telling Khamenei that the region was facing "a very difficult situation."
Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters including foreign policy, told the visiting premier that Iran would defend the Syrian regime, Iranian media reported.
The supreme leader warned Iran would "strongly oppose" any US-led initiative to resolve the conflict and reiterated Tehran's staunch rejection of any foreign intervention in Syria.
"The reforms which have begun there should continue," Khamenei said.
Iranian media did not mention any discussion that might have occurred between Erdogan and Khamenei on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Earlier Thursday, Erdogan expressed unwavering support for Tehran's atomic drive in a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to an official statement by the latter's office.
Turkey has proposed hosting the next round of long-stalled talks between Iran and the P5+1 group which comprises the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.
Those talks, expected to take place April 13, carry hopes of defusing a tense international showdown over Iran's nuclear activities, which Tehran insists is for purely peaceful purposes.
Speculation over Israeli plans to militarily target Iran's nuclear installations has sent oil prices soaring. The Jewish state and much the West believe Iran is striving for nuclear weapons capability.