Iran entrenches itself in Syria with promise of 'reconstruction'
Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami arrived in Syria and met with his Syrian counterpart Abdullah Ayoub, then with Assad, pledging to contribute to the war-torn country's reconstruction.
"Syria is in a very, very important juncture. It is passing through the critical stage and it is entering the very important stage of reconstruction," said Hatami, in comments carried by Iranian state broadcaster IRIB.
He said it was agreed with Syria that Iran would have "presence, participation and assistance" in reconstruction "and no third party will be influential in this issue".
Assad last month said reconstruction was his "top priority" in Syria, where more than 500,000 people have been killed and millions forced to flee their homes.
World powers who long called for his ouster insist reconstruction aid should only come with political transition, but fellow regime ally Russia is pressing them to provide support.
Minister Ayoub also championed the two countries' "special relationship" on Sunday.
"Syrian-Iranian relations are a model for bilateral ties between independent and sovereign nations," Ayoub said.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard is a key player in Syria, having flooded the country with foreign militias.
The quasi-paramilitary force also operates thousands of companies, including construction giants, that helps the Guard retain a powerful hold over domestic politics.
Tehran and Damascus have had strong ties for years. Iran has dispatched military forces to Syria, describing them as "advisors".
Iran-backed militias, including the Lebanese Hizballah movement, have also backed Assad's troops, helping regime forces avoid complete collapse.
Tehran has poured in thousands of foreign fighters, which have been critical to the regime's recent successes against opposition forces.
With crucial military support from allies Russia and Iran, Assad's troops have recaptured most rebel strongholds across the country. The northern province of Idlib is the last major remaining opposition bastion.
The ruthless offensives waged on opposition-held territory- including hundreds thousands of civilians killed - have formed the basis of Assad's strategy to reclaim land.
Residents of Idlib are fearing a large-scale military offensive in the near future as Assad vows to retake all of Syria.
According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the seven-year civil war, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.
The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.
"Idlib will return to the nation's bosom, and all Syrian soil will be cleansed of terrorism, either through reconciliation or ground operations," Ayoub said on Sunday.