Syrian President Assad Travels To Moscow To Meet Putin
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October 21 , 2015 , 20:30 IST
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has travelled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since war broke out in Syria in 2011, meeting his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The surprise visit on Tuesday reflects renewed confidence from the embattled Syrian president after Russia and Iran, another staunch ally, dramatically escalated their support recently as Moscow began carrying out airstrikes on Syrian insurgents and Tehran sent hundreds of ground forces.
A Syrian official confirmed Wednesday that Assad had returned to Damascus.
Mr. Putin said he had invited Assad, thanking him for “coming to Moscow despite a tragic situation in the country.”
“We thank you for standing by Syria’s territorial integrity and its independence,” Assad told Putin.
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 after the government cracked down violently on largely peaceful protests against Assad’s rule. The protests gradually became an armed insurgency and a civil war that has killed a quarter of a million people in the past five years.
Moscow, a traditional ally of the Assad family, started an air campaign on September 30 against what it said are terrorist groups threatening Syria and Assad’s rule. It became the latest international power to deepen its involvement into the increasingly intractable conflict that saw a mushrooming of armed groups, including the militant Islamic State group and al-Qaeda.
Assad said Russia’s intervention was in line with international law and praised it as an effort to rid Syria and the region of terrorism.
A statement posted on the Syrian presidency’s official Facebook page said: Assad had three separate meetings in Moscow- talks with Putin and his foreign and defense ministers, a closed meeting between the two leaders and a working dinner.
Russian television showed footage of Putin and Russia’s foreign and defense ministers meeting with Assad. The statement said the meetings were to discuss the continuation of the military operations against terrorism in Syria. The aim of the military operation is to eradicate terrorism that is obstructing a political solution, the statement said.
“Terrorism which we see spreading today could have been more widespread and more harmful if it weren’t for your decisions and steps, not only in our region,” Mr. Assad said in remarks carried by Arab media.
“The Syrian people have been putting up a fight against international terrorism effectively on its own for several years, sustaining sizeable losses but it has achieved positive results recently,” Mr. Putin said.
Since June, Russia has played with the idea of a political transition that would envisage setting up some sort of interim government, and has discussed the issue with the U.S., Saudi Arabia, the Syrian opposition and others. Moscow’s diplomatic efforts have brought no visible results so far, but Putin has insisted that a political solution for Syria remains his top goal despite the military action. He recently met with Saudi officials, staunch critics of Assad and supporters of the rebels fighting against him.
Moscow also has sought to alleviate the concerns of Turkey, a major economic partner and the second-biggest importer of Russian natural gas, which has been critical of Russia’s intervention in Syria.
Answering questions about Assad’s visit to Moscow, Turkey’s prime minister took a jab at the Syrian leader, reiterating his country’s position that Assad should not have a role in Syria’s future.
“If only he could stay in Moscow longer, to give the people of Syria some relief; in fact he should stay there so the transition can begin,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, told .
Mr. Davutoglu insisted that efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis should focus “not on a transition with Assad, but on formulas for Assad’s departure.”