Tehran, Iran – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has arrived in Syria and is expected to meet with President Bashar al-Assad in what Tehran has described as a sign of its “strategic victory” in regional affairs.
Raisi landed in Damascus on Wednesday for a two-day trip and received an official welcome to kick off the first state visit by an Iranian president to Syria in 13 years.
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He was accompanied by his ministers of foreign affairs, roads and urban development, petroleum and economic affairs and Iran’s central bank chief.
Raisi’s deputy for political affairs, Mohammad Jamshidi, told the state-run news agency IRNA prior to departure that the visit is a sign of “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic victory in the region”.
After supporting al-Assad during the Syrian war, Tehran is now positioning itself to have a stronger foothold in the country’s economic future, aiming to expand trade and secure an entry point for its state and private companies.
Jamshidi said the trip is taking place after more than a decade of turmoil in the Middle East, which included the war in Syria, the war in Yemen, the rise of ISIL (ISIS) and the propagation of “terrorism”.
He also mentioned the United States policy of “maximum pressure” starting in 2018 after the US unilaterally abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
The same Arab nations that supported Iran’s isolation, Jamshidi said, are now repositioning themselves and preparing to welcome Syria back into the Arab fold after rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Chinese mediation, agreed to restore diplomatic ties.
He said this development represents a failure of US policies in the region.
Iran and Syria are expected to sign several agreements during Raisi’s visit, some of which are centred around expanding economic cooperation.
Raisi arrived a day after Israel launched air raids targeting the international airport in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, killing one soldier and putting the airport out of commission.
Israel, which has promised to fight the rise of Iranian influence in neighbouring countries, has carried out hundreds of attacks on government-controlled areas of Syria in recent years and many attacks in recent months.
In March, US and Iran-backed forces in Syria traded fire in air attacks that killed at least 20 people. Tehran continues to support al-Assad’s position that US forces need to end their presence in the country, which Washington said it undertook to fight ISIL.