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Intel: How Iran is trying to strengthen its role in Syria by hosting Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad shakes hands with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran in this handout released by SANA on February 25, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE - RC136785FC30

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made an unannounced visit to Iran Monday 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.

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