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Syria: Assad affirms strength of Iran ties, return to Arab League draws near

May 6, 2023 at 12:59 pm

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (L) is welcomed by head of Syrian regime Bashar Al Assad (R) with an official ceremony at Presidential Palace in Damascus, Syria on May 03, 2023. [Iran Presidency – Anadolu Agency]

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad emphasised on Thursday the solidity of the relationship between Damascus and Tehran during his final meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, who visited Syria in recent days.

Both sides issued a joint statement, reaffirming their commitment to strengthening relations. Al-Assad stated that he had directed to activate and implement all understandings and proposals discussed during the visit, to serve the relationship between the two countries and to continue coordination and consultation in various fields.

Raisi announced that his visit to Syria would mark a “significant turning point” on the path to enhancing economic ties between the two countries, to elevate them to the level of political and military cooperation.

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In his speech before the Iranian and Syrian Businessmen Forum, Raisi added: “We do not consider in any way that the level of economic activity between Iran and Syria amounts to the political relations between the two countries, and we believe that there should be a leap forward in trade relations between the two countries.” ‎

On Wednesday, the Syrian and Iranian sides signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the Long-Term Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Plan, which covers several areas, including agriculture, railways, civil aviation, oil and free zones.

On Thursday, Raisi told the forum that 15 cooperation documents had been signed, through which both parties took into account the: “Necessary measures to initiate a new phase in bilateral economic relations.”

Over the past years, the two countries have signed bilateral agreements in several areas, most notably opening a credit line to secure Syria’s oil needs, particularly after international sanctions as Damascus lost control over major oil and gas fields.

Due to Syria’s confrontation with anti-government protests at the beginning of the conflict and Iran’s nuclear programme, both Syria and Iran are subject to harsh international sanctions, which led to financial transactions and bank transfers becoming nearly impossible for the two governments.

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Raisi began his meetings in Damascus on Thursday by receiving a group of Palestinian faction leaders at his residence in the presidential palace, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA.

According to the same source, Raisi said: “Today, more than ever, the unity and cohesion of the resistance forces, the region, and the Islamic world are necessary to accelerate the defeat of the Zionist regime.”

Raisi’s visit to Damascus came amid a rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran after they announced the resumption of their relations in March following a lengthy severing. Meanwhile, an Arab, particularly Saudi, openness towards Damascus is being observed, as several Arab countries have severed ties with it, and the Arab League suspended its membership following the outbreak of the conflict in 2011.

On Friday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi confirmed that Syria would soon be able to return to the Arab League, but numerous challenges await in resolving the ongoing conflict that has lasted for more than a decade in the country.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership in 2011 due to the violent crackdown President Al-Assad launched against an uprising that evolved into a civil war.

Safadi said Syria has enough votes among the Arab League’s 22 members to regain its seat. In a statement to CNN, he added: “The return to the League will happen. It will be symbolically significant, but this is just a very modest beginning for a process that will be very long and difficult, involving challenges, given the complexities of the crisis after 12 years of conflict.”

In an application of the accelerating Arab openness, the Arab League will hold two extraordinary foreign ministers’ meetings in Cairo on Sunday, one of which will discuss developments in the Syrian crisis and the issue of Syria regaining its seat in the League, a high-ranking diplomat told Agence France-Presse on Thursday.

In mid-April, the Gulf Cooperation Council held a meeting in Jeddah, which was also attended by Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, to discuss the issue of Syria’s return to the Arab League. Days after the meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan Al-Saud visited Damascus, marking the first official Saudi visit to Syria in 12 years.

On Monday, Amman hosted a consultative meeting with the participation of foreign ministers of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt. In the meeting, the ministers discussed ways to return Syrian refugees from neighbouring countries and extend the Syrian state’s control over its territory.

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