Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Damascus on Wednesday for a two-day visit that included a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the first by an Iranian head of state since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011.
The visit underscored the close ties between the two allies, who have been supported by Russia in their fight against rebel groups and Islamist militants in Syria. Iran has sent thousands of fighters and advisers to help Assad’s forces regain control of most of the country.
Raisi and Assad discussed ways to enhance their political and economic cooperation, as well as regional and international issues. They signed several agreements and memorandums of understanding to boost trade, investment, energy, transportation, agriculture and health sectors.
Raisi also called for the reconstruction of Syria and the return of refugees who fled the war. He visited some holy sites in Damascus and paid tribute to the Syrian soldiers killed in battle.
The Iranian president’s visit came at a time when some Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have been warming up to Assad and seeking to restore diplomatic relations with Syria after years of isolation. Syria was suspended from the Arab League in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters.
Raisi said that Iran’s strategic victory in the region was evident by the failure of America and its allies to achieve their goals against the resistance axis, which includes Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. He also stressed the need to confront Israel’s aggression and occupation.
The visit also signaled a new outlook for the Middle East, as Iran and Saudi Arabia have recently reached an agreement to re-establish ties and reopen embassies after seven years of tensions. The reconciliation between the two regional rivals is likely to have positive effects on the countries where they have been involved in proxy wars, such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq.