TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Iranian leaders in Tehran on Sunday, Iranian state-linked media reported, marking his second trip to major wartime ally Iran since Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011.
Nour News, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reported that Assad met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi earlier in the day. It said the leaders praised the strong ties between their nations and vowed to boost relations further. Assad was reported to have left Tehran for Damascus later on Sunday.
“Everybody now looks at Syria as a power,” Khamenei told Assad in a meeting, according to Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the country’s most powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. “The respect and credibility of Syria is now much more than before.”
Assad, for his part, said that strong relations between Iran and Syria served as a bulwark against Israel’s influence in the Middle East.
“Strategic relations between Iran and Syria are caused by the lack of domination of the Zionist regime in the region,” Assad was quoted as saying by Nour News.
Iranian media published photos of Assad shaking hands warmly with Khamenei and grinning beside Raisi.
Assad has rarely traveled abroad since his crackdown on Syria’s civil unrest in 2011 led to a devastating civil war and made him a global pariah.
He has visited key patrons Russia and Iran, and made his first trip to the United Arab Emirates since the conflict earlier this year – the clearest signal yet that the Arab world is willing to re-engage with the once widely shunned president as Arab states seek to blunt the expanding influence of their Shiite foe in Syria.
Tehran has given the Syrian government billions of dollars in aid and sent Iran-backed fighters to battle alongside his forces – assistance that, along with Russian air power, has helped turn the tide in Assad’s favor.
The Tehran visit marked Assad’s first trip to the Iranian capital in over two years. The visit was not announced beforehand.
Police were out in force at major thoroughfares and intersections in Tehran on Sunday.