Bashar Assad (R) welcomes Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Damascus, Syria, May 3, 2023

In the first visit by an Iranian President to Syria since the start of the 2011 uprising, Ebrahim Raisi has met Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

The trip was more for symbolism rather than substance, as both Assad and Tehran seek “normalization” with countries in the Middle East.

Iran has renewed relations with Saudi Arabia after a seven-year break. Assad has visited Oman and the UAE in his first state visits to Arab countries in 12 years.

Speaking alongside Raisi, Assad welcomed the Iranian-Saudi rapprochement. He pointed to a meeting in Moscow next between his officials and those from Turkey, Russia, and Iran as a further possibility.

Maintaining his standard rhetoric on anti-Assad groups and foreign powers, he demanded the withdrawal of “the occupying forces and halting support to terrorist groups”.

Raisi maintained Iran’s essential support of Assad, proclaiming resistance to US and confrontation of “takfiris”: “Iran will always stand by Syria…and supports its sovereignty.”

The two men signed agreements on “strategic cooperation”, including a memorandum of understanding over the oil industry.

During Assad’s repression of Syrian oppositions, Iran provided billions in dollars of lines of credit for oil supplies. However, with the Iranian economy in serious difficulty, the support has been limited or suspended.

See also Syria’s Fuel Crisis After Iran Suspends Oil Shipments to Assad Regime

Assad declared his hope for a “strong push” to trade and investment, without giving any details.

However, other memoranda covered agriculture, railways, and free trade zones.