Al Monitor: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made an unannounced visit to Iran yesterday for the first time since the start of the civil war eight years ago. The trip allows Tehran to reaffirm its alliance with Damascus at a time when Assad is under increasing pressure to distance Syria from Iran in order to reduce tensions with neighboring countries.
Why it matters: Assad received a warm embrace from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani that was widely displayed across Iranian media. The show of unity comes as Iran and its two negotiating partners, Russia and Turkey, face tensions over the future of Syria. By hosting the Syrian leader, Iran sent a message to both the United States and Turkey that Tehran won’t retreat and give up in the face of new developments and “threats” in Syria.
During his meeting with Assad, Rouhani hailed the recent trilateral meeting with Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Sochi for “maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria.” But Khamenei took an apparent swipe at Ankara for its attempts to establish a “safe zone” at Syria’s northeastern border, which he denounced as an American “plot” that must be “firmly rejected and opposed.”