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Assad meets Khamenei in Syrian president's first public visit to Iran since war began

Leaders say Iran and Syria will pursue shared national interests in face of US policies in the region
Ali Khamenei congratulated Bashar al-Assad for Syrian government victories against rebel groups in Syria (AFP)

Bashar al-Assad has travelled to Tehran to meet Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the Syrian president's first public visit to Iran since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011.

Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, congratulated Assad on Monday for his government's victories against what the Iranian leader called "terrorism", according to Syria's state-run news agency, SANA.

Khamenei told Assad that Damascus's gains against rebel groups are a "severe blow" to Washington's policies in the region, the news agency said.

Tehran has played a major role in turning the tides of the war in favour of the Syrian government, which has been battling rebels backed by the United States and other countries, as well as hardline militants such as the Islamic State (IS) group.

Khamenei warned Assad against potential plots by the US and Western countries, which may seek to respond for their "failures" in Syria, SANA reported.

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He also pledged that Iran would continue to stand with Syria until "terrorism" is eradicated in the country, stressing that Damascus and Tehran share deep strategic interests, the news agency said.

Iranian forces, as well as Tehran-backed groups, including Lebanon's Hezbollah, have been openly fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the country's civil war, helping them recapture key areas from the rebels.

For his part, Assad on Monday urged countries in the region to stop following US orders and instead pursue policies that respect the sovereignty of other nations, SANA reported.

Both Assad and Khamenei said the Western strategy of "spreading chaos" in the region, especially against Iran and Syria, will not deter the two countries from defending their national interests, according to the news agency.

The Syrian president also met with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on Monday.

Assad's visit comes amid growing calls from the US and Israel for Iranian forces to leave Syria.

US President Donald Trump announced late last year that he intends to pull American troops in Syria, but several administration officials have said that countering Iranian influence in the war-torn country remains an objective.

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