Assad and Putin meet, as Russia pushes to end Syrian war

The New York Times reports: Thanking Russia for the military intervention he credited for “saving Syria,” President Bashar al-Assad met with President Vladimir V. Putin amid preparations for new talks aimed at ending the civil war.

Mr. Assad’s visit on Monday to the Russian resort town of Sochi was made public on Tuesday, a day before a summit meeting there for the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Russia, who have taken an increasingly prominent role in diplomacy with Syria while the United States has put Mr. Assad’s fate on the back burner.

Russian officials have said that their aim is to ensure Mr. Assad’s support for a political process to end a conflict that began more than six years ago. But Mr. Assad has consistently resisted compromise with his Syrian opponents, and doubts remain about how much Russia is willing, or able, to push him to accept significant changes like substantive power sharing or reforms.

In another signal that political change in Syria is less and less an international priority, in a phone conversation with Mr. Putin on Tuesday that lasted more than an hour and was mostly about Syria, President Trump did not bring up the issue of political transition, an administration official said. Instead, the White House said the two leaders agreed on the importance of stability, ending the war, fighting terrorism and allowing refugees to go home.

The declarations of military victory may also be premature: The Islamic State has lost much of its territory, but its fighters remain an insurgent threat and armed opposition groups still hold significant sections of the country. [Continue reading…]

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