SOCHI, November 21. /TASS/. Putin and his Syrian counterpart discussed the major principles in Syria’s political process and preparations for the Congress of Syrian Peoples. Their meeting took place in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday, while the Syrian president was on a working visit to Russia.
Putin also introduced Assad to the senior officials of the Russian Defense Ministry and the General Staff, who are currently in Sochi for a series of meetings on defense issues.
The Russian president pointed out that on November 22, he planned to meet with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts, Hassan Rouhani and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Apart from these partners, as you know, we have been actively working with other countries, including Iraq, the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We have been maintaining continuous contacts with them," Putin noted.
"The main question concerns the political process that will be launched after terrorists are defeated, and is expected to help find a long-term solution to the Syrian crisis," Putin said addressing Assad. "I would very much like to discuss with you the major principles of launching a political process and preparations for a congress of the Syrian people, which you have welcomed. I would also like to hear your opinion about the current state of affairs and prospects for the further developments, including your view of the political process, which, as we see it, should be sponsored by the United Nations. We expect the UN to actively participate in the process, particularly during its final stage," the Russian president pointed out.
Putin also emphasized the contribution to resolving the crisis that the Astana process had made. "Thanks to the Astana process, we have been able to establish de-escalation zones, which made it possible to take practical steps to launch a real deep dialogue with the opposition," he said.
The Russian president went on to say that on November 22-23, the Riyadh-based group of the Syrian opposition was expected to hold a meeting in the Saudi capital. "Mr. Lavrentyev, as my special representative [for Syria] will attend the opening and the closing ceremonies and will also participate in the press conference," he said.
While opening the meeting with Assad, Putin congratulated the Syrian president "on the successes that Syria has been achieving in the fight against terror groups." However, in Putin’s words, "a lot should be done to achieve a complete victory over terrorism." "But as far as our cooperation in the fight against terrorists in Syria goes, the military operation is really coming to an end," the Russian president noted. "I think, now the main thing is to move to political processes, and I am pleased to see your readiness to work with everyone willing to establish peace and find solutions," the Russian leader added.
On Monday night, Putin held a telephone conversation with the Emir of Qatar, discussing the Syrian settlement process. As Putin said at the meeting with Assad, he also planned to hold consultations with other leaders. "After our meeting, I will hold consultations with the leaders of the countries that I have just mentioned… [On Tuesday] a talk with US President Donald Trump is expected to take place, and after that, conversations with the leaders of the regional countries’ leaders will be held," Putin said.
Assad accepted the talks agenda proposed by Putin, saying that "we have a good opportunity to discuss the upcoming congress and summit, as well as to coordinate our positions concerning the next steps." He pointed out that the congress was planned to be held "in the coming days."
"Over this period, tremendous successes have been achieved, both on the battlefield and in the political arena. Many areas in Syria have been liberated from terrorists, and civilians who were forced to leave those areas have been able to return," Assad pointed out.
"We must admit that the [military] operation made it possible to advance the process of political settlement in Syria," he added. "Russia has facilitated the process in many ways, ensuring respect for the UN Charter, the sovereignty and independence of the state," he said.
On behalf of the Syrian people, Assad thanked Putin "for helping us protect the territorial integrity of our country and its independence." He also thanked the Russian Defense Ministry and "the entire Russian people, who have remained our friend, standing side by side with us."
"At the current stage, after achieving victories over terrorists, we are interested in advancing the political process. We believe that the situation on the ground, particularly from a political standpoint, makes us optimistic about the progress in the political process," Assad said. "We expect Russia to assist us in preventing external players from meddling in the political process and also support the process launched by the Syrian people," Assad said. "We do not want to look back. We welcome all who are interested in a political settlement and are ready to build dialogue with them," the Syrian president added.
Meeting with senior military officials
Senior officers from the Russian Defense Ministry and General Staff attended the second part of the meeting between the Russian and Syrian presidents. Putin introduced Russia’s senior military officials to Assad, presenting them as "people who have played the key role in saving Syria." "Mr. Assad definitely already knows some of you personally. He told me during our talks that thanks to the Russian military, the Syrian state has been saved," the Russian leader pointed out.
According to Putin, if it were not for the efforts of the senior Russian military officers and the courage demonstrated by their subordinates, no possibilities to advance the political process in Syria would have been created. "These efforts were made on the battlefield by the Russian Armed Forces together with our Syria friends. Special thanks to you," said Putin, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces.
Assad, in turn, also emphasized the important role of the Russian military "and the sacrifices that it has made to achieve this goal [fighting terrorism in Syria]." He stressed that "no one can deny" the successes in the war on terror that the Syrian troops and the Russian Aerospace Force had achieved. "Thanks to your actions, as well as to the actions of the Syrian army and our allies, many Syrians have been able to return to their homes," the Syrian president said addressing the senior officials of Russia’s Defense Ministry and General Staff. He thanked them on behalf of the Syrian people and expressed personal gratitude to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Army General Sergey Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov "for being directly involved in this operation."
Putin expressed hope that "in the near future, we will bring the fight against terrorism in Syria to an end. "Though it is clear that some new hotbeds of terrorism may still emerge," he added. The Russian leader added that "there still are many terrorism-related issues facing the world and the Middle East, including Syria." "But the main task is almost achieved, and in the near future we will be able to say that we have completed it," he said.