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Syria's Assad Visits Iran, Meets Khamenei

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, pictured in 2018.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Iran for talks with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani -- the first time the Syrian leader has traveled anywhere other than Russia since the civil war erupted in his country nearly eight years ago.

Assad voiced his gratitude to Iran for its support throughout the war, official Syrian and Iranian news agencies said on February 25.

Several rounds of UN-sponsored negotiations in recent years have failed to end the conflict, which began in March 2011 with protests against the Assad family's decades-long rule and has killed more than 400,000 people, displaced millions, and devastated historic sites across the country.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran are all deeply involved in the seven-year Syrian conflict and sponsor separate peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

Tehran has given the Syrian government billions of dollars in aid since the conflict began and sent Iran-backed fighters to battle alongside his forces.

Syrian state TV says Assad "thanked the Islamic Republic's leadership and people for what they have given to Syria during the war." Assad's office said "both sides expressed their satisfaction with the strategic levels reached between the two countries in all fields."

Syrian and Iranian media released photos showing Assad, in a dark suit, in an embrace with Khamenei and shaking hands with Rohani, both of them smiling.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP