NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday fighting radical militants like Islamic State in Syria is the top priority and if they are to be defeated then President Bashar al-Assad's government "can't be weakened."
"This does not mean that the Syrian government does not need reform ... Of course it does," Rouhani told an audience of U.S. think-tanks and journalists, but he added that the removal of his ally Assad would turn Syria into an extremist safe haven.
Referring to air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition on Islamic State targets in Syria, Rouhani said defeating the militants was "not feasible through air operations only." He said Russia "is ready to fight terrorism."
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, writing by Michelle Nichols)