Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for talks at which the two men agreed that the focus in the Syrian conflict was now switching from military operations to the search for a political solution.
In comments that were released by the Kremlin early on Tuesday, Putin told the Syrian leader he wanted to meet him in advance of a gathering, planned for this week in Russia, with the leaders of Turkey and Iran two other powers heavily involved in the conflict in Syria.
Putin also said he would follow up his meeting with Assad with telephone calls to U.S. President Donald Trump, and to Middle Eastern leaders including the Emir of Qatar.
“We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists. But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up.”
“I think that now the most important thing, of course, is to move on the political questions, and I note with satisfaction your readiness to work with all those who want peace and a solution (to the conflict),” Putin said.
According to the Kremlin, the meeting happened on Monday in the Russian Black resort of Sochi, where Putin has a residence, but details were not released until Tuesday morning.
Assad, wearing a dark suit and sitting across a small coffee table from Putin, told the Russian leader: “At this stage, especially after we achieved victory over terrorists, it is in our interests to move forward with the political process.”
“And we believe that the situation we now have on the ground and in the political sense permits us to expect progress in the political process. We count on the support of Russia to ensure the non-interference of outside players in the political process,” said Assad, speaking through an interpreter.
Putin and Assad last met on Oct. 20, 2015 in Moscow, a few weeks after Moscow launched a military operation in Syria that turned the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favour.