Syrian President Bashar Assad made a surprise trip to Tehran on February 25, the first since the Syrian war began in 2011. The visit comes as Assad has consolidated his hold on all major Syrian cities and as Iran, Russia, and Turkey are working on a post-war peace process. Assad met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. "We acknowledge Iran's approach in multilateral cooperation, including the Astana Process and the recent Sochi Summit," Assad said in his meeting with Rouhani.
Assad and the Iranian leaders also sounded a defiant note about U.S. attempts to shape Syria’s future. "Through resistance and cooperation of its people, Syria managed to stand fast against a big coalition consisting of America, Europe and their allies in the region and emerge triumphant from this crisis," Khamenei said. Assad added, "Many countries were in awe of America and believed that it was America, which determined the fate and future of the world. However, as a result of the resistance of resistant nations, this erroneous notion is falling apart."
Etemad newspaper headline: "The Hero of the Arab World"
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was notably absent from the meetings with Assad. Zarif’s exclusion appeared to be one of the triggers for his resignation later that day.
The Assad visit had domestic fallout. The Iranian daily newspaper “Ghanoon” was reportedly banned after labeling Assad an “uninvited guest” in a front-page story on Feb. 25. Ghanoon was shut down in 2014 and 2016 for criticizing the IRGC. The following are key quotes from Assad’s trip:
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers supporting the Syrian government and people as helping the resistance movement and current, and takes pride in it from the bottom of its heart.”
“The issue of the buffer zone, which Americans seek to establish in Syria, is among those dangerous plots that must be categorically rejected and stood against.”
“Iran and Syria are each other’s strategic depth and the identity and power of the resistance front depends on this continued and strategic relationship. This will prevent enemies from making their plans operational.”
“Through resistance and cooperation of its people, Syria managed to stand fast against a big coalition consisting of America, Europe and their allies in the region and emerge triumphant from this crisis.”
“The enemies’ error was that they mistook Syria with some other Arab countries. While in those countries, people’s movement was in line with resistance and was, in fact, uprising against America and its stooges.”
“Through your [Assad’s] steadfastness, you turned into the hero of the Arab world and the resistance in the region has gained more power and credit through you.”
—Feb. 25, 2019, in a meeting with Bashar Assad in Tehran
Syrian President Bashar Assad
“Iran and Syria are two nations with identity and ideology and although current achievements were gained through much suffering, they are certainly a result of steadfastness of the resistance front.”
“Many countries were in awe of America and believed that it was America, which determined the fate and future of the world. However, as a result of the resistance of resistant nations, this erroneous notion is falling apart.”
—Feb. 25, 2019, in a meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
"In fighting terrorism in Syria, the Islamic Republic of Iran has always stood by the people and the government of the country, sparing no effort in this regard."
"Tehran supports Damascus in the process of stability and return of refugees."
"Iran and Syria have many religious and cultural bonds and relations between the two countries is based on brotherhood and unity."
"In the latest Sochi Summit, the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey stressed maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria."
"The path of Tehran-Damascus cooperation is clear and the Islamic Republic of Iran will be alongside the Syrian government and people."
"The guidelines of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution are a strong support for development of cooperation and relations between the Iranian and Syrian governments."
—Feb. 25, 2019, in a meeting with Assad in Tehran