Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Iran and met with officials there on a rare trip abroad in which he thanked the Islamic Republic for its support throughout his country’s conflict, official news agencies in Syria and Iran said on Monday.
Assad met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani on the trip — the first time he has traveled anywhere other than Russia since the Syrian civil war erupted nearly eight years ago.
Tehran has given the Syrian government billions of dollars in aid since the conflict began and sent Iran-backed fighters to battle alongside his forces — assistance that has helped turn the tide in Assad’s favor.
Syrian state TV said Assad “thanked the Islamic Republic’s leadership and people for what they have given to Syria during the war.” Assad’s office said “both sides expressed their satisfaction with the strategic levels reached between the two countries in all fields.”
Khamenei told Assad that “Iran considers helping the government and nation of Syria to be helping the resistance movement and is proud of it from the bottom of its heart,” his website said.
“The creation of the buffer that the Americans are seeking to create in Syria is an example of these dangerous conspiracies which must be strongly denounced and resisted,” Khamenei added.
Syrian and Iranian media released photos showing Assad, in a dark suit, in an embrace with Khamenei and shaking hands with Rouhani, both of them smiling.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran as before will be alongside the people and government of Syria,” Iran government’s official website quoted Rouhani as saying.
Assad has only ventured outside his war-ravaged nation twice since the conflict began — both times to Russia.
The protests prompted a harsh response from Syrian security forces, which led to the emergence of an insurgency. The resulting war has killed some 450,000 people and driven millions from their homes.
The visit to Iran comes a day before a trip by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russia for talks expected to focus on Iran’s role in Syria.