DAMASCUS — In a show of force, Syria began large-scale military exercises Sunday to simulate defending the country against outside aggression.Syria’s staunch ally Iran warned of a catastrophe in the region if no political solution to the 16-month-old conflict is found.
Iran is Syria’s closest ally and has stood by President Bashar Assad’s regime throughout the revolt against his rule despite a growing chorus of international condemnation.
Assad said in comments published Sunday that he will not step down ‘‘in the face of national challenges.’’ He spoke in a television interview with German public broadcaster ARD, which released his comments ahead of the full broadcast.
Assad also accused the United States of fueling the revolt against him by partnering with ‘‘terrorists . . . with weapons, money, or public and political support at the United Nations.’’ The regime frequently uses the term ‘‘terrorists’’ to refer to Syrians seeking to topple Assad.
The Syrian military maneuvers began Saturday with naval forces in a simulation in which they repelled an attack from the sea. They will include air and ground forces over the next few days, the state-run SANA news agency said.
State TV broadcast footage of missiles being fired from launch vehicles and warships — an apparent warning to other countries not to intervene in the country’s crisis.
The relentless bloodshed in Syria since the uprising against Assad began has accelerated diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis. It has also spurred some in the Syrian opposition to urge the West to intervene militarily to stop a conflict that activists say has left more than 14,000 people dead.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, dismissed talk of foreign intervention, saying ‘‘nobody can imagine a military attack against Syria. We believe it will not happen. If it happens, Syria will defend itself and will not need help from Iran.’’
UN special envoy Kofi Annan, the architect of an international plan to end the crisis, arrived in the Syrian capital Sunday for talks with Assad, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.
The West is reluctant to intervene in Syria in part because unlike the military intervention that helped bring down Moammar Khadafy in Libya, the Syrian conflict has the potential to quickly escalate.
Damascus has a web of allegiances to powerful forces, including Shi’ite powerhouse Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and there are concerns that a military campaign could pull them into a wider conflagration.
‘‘Some tried to portray the Syrian president as just another aggressor,’’ Abdollahian said. “Some tried to impose a no-fly zone. We must say that Syria is different from Libya.’’ He declined to elaborate, but said, ‘‘there will be a catastrophe in the region, if there’s no political solution there.’’
Any outside intervention would also probably face strong opposition from Syrian ally Russia as well as China, who have already shielded Damascus from diplomatic efforts to pressure the regime.
Speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan, Abdollahian dismissed questions about whether Iran would host Assad if he were to leave Syria, saying the issue of Assad fleeing his country and seeking refuge elsewhere is a joke.
‘‘He is following up on the situation in Syria,’’ he said. “The Syrian people will decide their fate until another president is elected in 2014.’’
Syrian Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha attended the military maneuvers Sunday and praised the ‘‘exceptional performance’’ of the naval forces which showed ‘‘a high level of combat training and ability to defend Syria’s shores against any possible aggression.’’
‘‘The navy carried out the training successfully, repelling the hypothetical attack and striking at given targets with high precision,’’ the report said. The maneuvers are the second to be carried out by the Syrian military since the uprising began.
Annan, the special envoy for the UN and the Arab League, said in an interview Saturday that the international community’s efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed. ‘‘The evidence shows that we have not succeeded,’’ he told the French daily Le Monde.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that time is running out on Syrian peace hopes and warned that the Syrian state could collapse. Speaking in Japan, Clinton said Annan’s acknowledgment his peace plan is failing ‘‘should be a wake-up call for everyone.’’
Last month, Clinton said the government’s opposition ‘‘is getting more effective in defense of themselves and going on the offensive against the Syrian military.’’