Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Iranian officials in his first visit to the Islamic Republic since the start of the Syrian conflict, Syrian state media reported.
Assad met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani on his first trip to Iran since the war erupted nearly eight years ago. Assad has only ventured outside his war-ravaged nation twice since the conflict began, both times to Russia.
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.
Syrian state television showed footage of Assad meeting Khamenei and said the two leaders agreed “to continue cooperation at all levels for the interests of the two friendly nations.”
The outlet also 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.”
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 favour.
This week’s visit abroad to meet Iranian leaders is his third in total since protests against his family’s decades-long rule broke out in March 2011.
The protests prompted a harsh response from Syrian security forces, which led to the emergence of an armed anti-government uprising. The resulting war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.
The visit to Iran comes a day before a trip by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russia for talks expected to focus on Iran’s role in Syria.