Raisi arrives in Syria for first visit by Iranian president since Syrian war began



Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Damascus on Wednesday, Syrian state media SANA news agency reported, on the first visit by a head of state from Iran since Syria's civil war broke out in 2011.

Raisi's visit comes as Iran and regional rival Saudi Arabia rebuild ties after years of tensions. Arab nations which had isolated Syria over its crackdown against protests in 2011 are developing a roadmap to end the 12-year war and reintegrate Syria into the Arab fold.

Deals expected

Raisi, joined by a large ministerial delegation, and Assad will hold "extensive political and economic discussions followed by the signing of a number of agreements," according to SANA.

Iranian government spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi said Tuesday that "both countries are ready for the highest level of cooperation, and the purpose of this trip is economic," adding that they could also "cooperate" during the reconstruction phase." A large number of agreements and memoranda of understanding" will be signed during Raisi's visit, including on "energy and electricity", Syria's pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported.

There would also be "discussions on a new Iranian credit line for Syria for investment in the power sector," the daily added, in a country where blackouts can last around 20 hours a day.

Middle East rapproachment hoped to continue

Before Raisi, the last Iranian president to visit Damascus was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2010. Assad has officially visited Tehran twice since the war broke out, the last time in May 2022.

Raisi's two-day visit comes just weeks after Iran's landmark, China-brokered agreement to restore ties with regional rival Saudi Arabia, which has sparked a flurry of diplomacy in the Middle East.

Assad is hoping full normalization of ties with wealthy Gulf monarchies and other Arab states will also help finance reconstruction.

In April, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan made the first visit to Damascus by a Saudi official since the start of the Syrian war.

Damascus-based analyst Osama Danura told AFP that he also expected Syria-Turkey relations to be discussed.

Tehran has been part of four-way talks with Damascus, Moscow and Ankara seeking to repair Syria-Turkey ties, which were severed at the start of the conflict.