In an interview with Politico published Thursday, Black explained that he sees the situation in Syria as a choice between President Bashar al-Assad's regime, or terrorists.
“I’m deeply concerned that if we oust President Assad then we will evolve a jihadist regime associated with Al Qaeda,” Black said, according to Politico.
In the initial letter, which was featured on Assad's Facebook page, Black thanked Assad's forces for "heroic" actions and “extraordinary gallantry" in protecting Christian and Jewish interests.
“You have followed the practice of your father by treating with respect all Christians and the small community of Jews in Damascus,” Black wrote. “You defended their churches and the Jewish synagogue and you have permitted them to worship freely according to their beliefs. I am grateful for that.”
Black's comments arrive as the U.S. inches closer to a decision on training Syrian rebels. According to the Politico report, it “turns" Black's "stomach” to think that aid could be given to those groups.
Democrats criticized Black's move, with state Sen. Donald McEachin (D) calling the letter "bizarre." Via WUSA-TV:
"It is bizarre that state Senator Dick Black would send a letter to the President of Syria. Especially one that heaps praise on President Bashar al-Assad — a man who has presided over terrible massacres and atrocities, including gas attacks that killed hundreds of his own people.
"As state legislators we should be spending our time on issues here in Virginia. Passing a budget that closes the coverage gap is job number one, and I don't understand why Dick Black is flattering strongmen overseas when he could be helping hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians right here at home."