Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met on May 8 with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during an unexpected visit to Iran.
It was Assad's second visit to Iran since the start of the Syrian civil war 11 years ago. The Islamic republic, along with Russia, were major wartime allies of Syria and have supported the continuation of Assad's rule.
Iranian media published photos of Assad shaking hands with Khamenei and smiling beside Raisi.
According to Iranian media, during the meeting the two sides praised the 'strong relations' between the two countries and pledged to strengthen them.
Khamenei told Assad that Syria is "much more respected and credible than before, and everyone sees it as a power," according to Iran's semiofficial Tasnim news agency.
He added that the relationship between the two countries 'is vital and we should not let it weaken, but we should strengthen it as much as possible.'
Assad stressed that the strong Tehran-Damascus relationship is 'a bulwark against Israeli influence in the Middle East.'
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted Assad as praising Iran's help in what he called Syria's "fight against terrorism."
Iran has sent thousands of militants to Syria to provide military assistance on the battlefield in a war that sent millions of people fleeing.
Assad has rarely traveled abroad since his government's crackdown on Syria's civil unrest in 2011 led to the civil war. However, he recently visited the United Arab Emirates and received promises from U.A.E. leaders to help Syria's severely weakened economy.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036