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Putin hosts Assad in fresh peace drive

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in Sochi on November 20, 2017. / AFP / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV
MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian leader Bashar Assad late on Monday for three hours of talks to lay the groundwork for a new push by Moscow to end Syria’s conflict now that Daesh territorial caliphate is overrun.
Russia is actively trying to broker an international consensus around a peace deal for Syria, over two years after Moscow began a military intervention that turned the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor.
Putin made a phone call to Saudi King Salman on Tuesday during which the two leaders reviewed bilateral ties. They also discussed the latest regional developments and joint cooperation to combat extremism.
Putin said he would follow up his meeting with Assad by talking in the next 48 hours to international leaders with influence over the conflict, among them US President Donald Trump and the leaders of Iran and Turkey.
After the talks in Russia — Assad’s first publicly-declared travel outside Syria since a trip to Moscow in October 2015 — a Kremlin spokesman refused to say if Assad’s own future had come up in the discussions, saying only that was up to the Syrian people.
In a sign that international attempts may be underway to bridge the differences between rival sides in the conflict, leading Syrian opposition figures, including former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, resigned.
Hijab headed the opposition High Negotiations Committee and insisted on Assad’s removal from power at the start of a political transition.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, said the resignations would make the opposition more reasonable and realistic.
On Wednesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — whose countries back opposing sides in the Syria conflict — will travel to Russia for a three-way meeting with Putin aimed at advancing the Syrian peace process.

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