Iran’s president visits Syria as he seeks to bolster Tehran’s sway over ally

The Iranian president visited Syria on Wednesday for the first time since the civil war that broke out in 2011 shattered the Arab nation, seeking to expand Tehran’s influence over the longtime ally as it prepares to rebuild.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s visit saw some Arab states, which had cut ties with the Syrian regime and backed the opposition, turn to Damascus, a regime that has relied on its alliance with Iran and Russia for more than a decade, and the transitional regime. It is done when you are re-engaging with

A political analyst in Tehran said, “Raisi’s visit is a sign of our strength to help keep Assad in power and to continue to maintain our strong presence in the region.” “Iran is trying to gain the upper hand even in peacetime.”

The Saudi foreign minister welcomed the Syrian foreign minister in Riyadh last month, and Saudi Arabia also agreed to normalize relations with its arch-rival Iran under a deal brokered by China in March.

Tehran’s military and financial support for President Bashar al-Assad has been crucial in fighting rebels and has strengthened Syria’s ties with the Islamic Republic, an ally since the 1979 revolution.Russia and Backed by Iran, Assad has regained control of most of the country, along with remnants of armed rebels controlling an enclave in northwestern Syria.

Raisi met with Assad on Wednesday. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said that “Iran has supported the Syrian government, military and state during the fight against terrorism” and therefore “has a crucial role to play in helping repair the damage of the war”. I can,’ he said.

Keyvan Kashefi, member of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce involved in trade relations with Syria, said: [during the war]Iran needs a new platform to engage more in trade with Syria and help rebuild the country. ”

Although no Iranian president visited Damascus during the war, Assad has visited Iran twice since 2011 and met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran’s supreme leader has voiced unwavering support for the Syrian and Lebanese militants Hezbollah as part of a strategy to contain Tehran’s main regional enemy, Israel, across the Islamic Republic’s borders.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) in Tehran in 2019 © Iranian Leader Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Analysts in Tehran said the deal with Iran and Saudi Arabia would ease political and economic pressure on the country and boost regional trade.

Bilateral trade between Damascus and Tehran is worth about $250 million a year, with Iran accounting for the majority of exports, but could grow to at least $1 billion if obstacles such as high Syrian tariffs are eased. It could reach the dollar, Kashefi said. He acknowledged that the risk of an Israeli attack on Iranian cargo by sea or land deterred trade. Syria is Iran’s main land bridge for sending military and financial aid to Hezbollah.

“Official border crossings [through Iraq] It is not safe for Iranian trucks because some trucks carrying fuel caught fire,” said petrochemical trader Hamid Hosseini, who said the trade route through Iraq had been cut short after Iran “warmed ties with Saudi Arabia.” He added that the risk could be reduced.

Iran’s leaders also hope increased regional trade will boost Tehran’s economic independence from the West. The nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers has been in a moribund state since US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 and imposed a series of sanctions on the country.

“Syria is not a big market for Iran, but we cannot afford to lose even a small one,” said Iranian political economy analyst Saeed Leilaz. “Iran would rather sell oil to Syria without paying on time than not sell it at all and lose the market.”

Tehran controls some of Syria’s phosphate mines, a key source of raw materials for Iran’s fertilizer production, but exports more food, petrochemicals, construction materials and engineering services to Syria. We also want to invest in the telecommunications sector.

“Iran will have something to say in Syria if the land route to Syria through Iraq becomes safe,” Hosseini said. “However, in the current situation, the transport costs and risks of trade with Syria make a significant expansion very difficult.”

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