Putin meets Assad, calls for 'political process' on Syria
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President Vladimir Putin held a rare meeting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad on Thursday and said the situation in Syria is now favourable for the beginning of a "political process" which would lead to the withdrawal of foreign forces.
"After the military success (of the Syrian army in recent months) supplementary conditions have been created which favour the start of a political process on a major scale," Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin following the meeting in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "there were detailed discussions" between the two leaders, who last met in December at a Russian military air base in the Syria's coastal province of Latakia.
"With the start of the political process in its most active phase, foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory," Putin said, without specifying which foreign forces.
Putin also congratulated Assad on the "successes of the Syrian government's army in the fight against terrorist groups".
"The next task, of course, the economic recovery and humanitarian aid for those people in a difficult situation," Putin added.
Russia has been involved in Syria's civil war since September 2015. Its military support not only ensured the survival of Assad's regime, it changed the course of the war.
In a statement from the Syrian presidency, Assad said "we have evaluated the political process" and will select candidates for a constitutional committee, a suggestion proposed in January at a summit in Sochi, that will work with the United Nations.
According to a Kremlin statement, Assad said "stability is improving" in Syria, "opening the door to the political process we started some time ago".
"We know it will not be easy because some countries do not want stability to return to Syria. But with you and other partners and friends, we will continue to make strong progress in the peace process," Assad was quoted as saying in the statement.
Russian television broadcast short clips from the two men's discussion.
The visit comes on the eve of a meeting in Sochi between Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the first face-to-face talk of the year between the veteran leaders.