BEIRUT — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Damascus “in the near future,” on the first such trip to Syria since the country’s civil war began, Iran’s foreign minister said on Friday.
Syria’s pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported that Raisi would visit Damascus on Wednesday.
“We have drawn up a program… for a visit” by Raisi to Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told a press conference at the Iranian embassy in Beirut, adding that the trip would be “in the near future.”
The planned visit comes in the context of “multidimensional” cooperation between Tehran and Damascus, he added, according to an official Arabic translation, calling ties between the two countries “excellent.”
Iran is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has given financial and military support to his regime during Syria’s 12-year-old conflict.
Amir-Abdollahian noted that his country had sent “military advisers” to help the government since the start of the war.
Raisi’s planned trip comes against the backdrop of a rapprochement between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, and increased Arab engagement with Damascus.
Amir-Abdollahian said the Riyadh-Tehran detente would have “positive repercussions on the whole region and in Lebanon in particular.”
Assad visited Tehran in May last year for only his second reported trip to the Islamic Republic since the start of the war in 2011.
During a trip to Damascus in January, Amir-Abdollahian said Assad had invited Raisi to visit.
The last Iranian president to visit Damascus was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in September 2010.
Iran and Russia have been the key allies supporting Assad as he clawed back his grip over Syria during 12 years of conflict that has claimed more than 500,000 lives and displaced millions.
Iran finances, arms and commands a number of Syrian and foreign militia groups fighting alongside the regular armed forces, chief among them Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terror group.
Tehran’s top diplomat, during his second visit to Lebanon this year, also met Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday, the group said.
Earlier Friday, Amir-Abdollahian met Lebanese officials before traveling to the country’s south and touring a park set up near the border with Tehran’s arch-enemy Israel.
Amir-Abdollahian was expected to head to Damascus after visiting Lebanon.