Syria: Putin calls for political solution in rare Assad visit


Syria: Putin calls for political solution in rare Assad visit

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Image caption The two leaders met for the first time since October 2015

Vladimir Putin has called for a political settlement in Syria, during a rare and unannounced visit to Russia by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The Russian leader stressed the need to reach a solution to Syria's entrenched civil conflict, the Kremlin said.

The meeting, at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, came two years after Russia began a military campaign in Syria in support of Mr Assad's forces.

The two leaders last met in 2015, shortly after Russia's intervention.

Speaking to Russian television after the meeting on Monday evening, Mr Putin said he intended to talk with US President Donald Trump and the Emir of Qatar about a resolution to the conflict.

On Wednesday, he will meet the leaders of Iran and Turkey for trilateral talks.

"We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists," Mr Putin said in Sochi. "But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up."

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Mr Assad was on Russian soil for four hours, a Kremlin spokesman told the RIA news agency.

Russia's intervention in the conflict is widely seen as having turned the tide in favour of Mr Assad's forces, which are battling rebels and jihadists including so-called Islamic State.

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Media captionThe BBC witnesses the last stand of IS in Syria

Russian has been accused of killing hundreds of Syrian civilians in its air campaign, something it has denied.

Speaking to Russian state television after the meeting, Mr Assad said: "At this stage, especially after we achieved victory over terrorists, it is in our interests to move forward with the political process."

The Syrian leader has long characterised rebels as terrorists.

The leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU have all called for Mr Assad to step down since the beginning of the country's bloody civil conflict, and the issue of Mr Assad's future has been a stumbling block in previous peace talks.

Various Syrian opposition factions are due to meet in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Wednesday, to try to form a single representative body for the latest round of UN-backed talks in Geneva next week.

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