The presidents of Russia and Iran said on Wednesday the crisis in Syria must be resolved peacefully without foreign intervention, according to a Kremlin statement.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the dramatic situation developing around Syria by telephone a day after the United States appeared to open the door to eventually arming rebels.

The sides spoke out in favour of Syrians themselves overcoming the crisis as swiftly as possible through exclusively peaceful means, without foreign intervention, Medvedev's press service said in a statement.

Russia has protected Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from U.N. Security Council condemnation and potential sanctions during nearly a year of violence most countries blame on his government, twice vetoing resolutions along with China.

In line with Russia's position, the Kremlin said Medvedev and Ahmadinejad called for an internal Syrian political dialogue without preliminary conditions - wording that means Assad should not be required to step down as a condition for talks.

They also called for the continuation of political and socioeconomic reforms in Syria, the Kremlin said.

The heads of state agreed that the main task now - including in the framework of international organisations, primarily the United Nations - is not to allow civil war, which could destabilise the situation in the entire region.

Medvedev also spoke separately to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the Kremlin said.

He told them Russia vetoed the most recent Western-Arab draft resolution to prevent nations in the Middle East and further afield from using the resolution to implement a scenario of external intervention in Syria's affairs.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Rosalind Russell)