The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, pledged that its “axis” with Syria will “never” be allowed to break when Tehran sought to bolster President Bashar al-Assad.
Jalili’s arrival to Damascus is the symbol of firm support to Syria as battle rages for Syria’s second city Aleppo between the troops and rebels.
Mr Assad made his first appearance on state television for over a fortnight, promising to continue the struggle against his enemies “without respite”.
Iran has been trying to guarantee the survival of Mr Assad, who serves as Tehran’s only reliable ally in the Middle East, by supplying Syria’s regime with funds, weaponry and expert personnel to aid the campaign against rebels.
“Iran will never allow the resistance axis – of which Syria is an essential pillar – to break,” he said. The “axis of resistance” refers to the Middle East’s anti-Western powers: Iran, Syria and the armed groups, Hizbollah and Hamas, although in reality the latter has already broken away by ending its presence in Damascus.
Iran and Syria both claim that foreign countries have caused the uprising against Mr Assad with the aim of destroying the “axis”. During his visit, Mr Jalili echoed that message. “What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other,” he said.
Syria’s regime has suffered a series of reverses in recent weeks, with Riyad Hijab, the prime minister, defecting on Monday and denouncing Mr Assad’s “murderous” government.
On Tuesday, however, Mr Assad reassured his Iranian guest of his determination to fight on. “The Syrian people and their government are determined to purge the country of terrorists and to fight the terrorists without respite,” he said.
The Iranian envoy also demanded the release of 48 of his country’s citizens, who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels while visiting a shrine near Damascus. Mr Jalili pledged to use “all means possible” to win their freedom. An official letter sent to the US administration by Iran’s foreign ministry said that Washington, as the “manifest” sponsor of “terrorist groups” in Syria, was responsible for the captives’ safety.
The rebels, for their part, claimed that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were among the hostages. They believe that Iran has sent soldiers from this unit to fight alongside Syrian forces.