Putin says Assad ready to talk to opposition

Russian president Vladimir Putin says Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad ready to talk to Syrian opposition, which Russian air strikes have been targeting since September 30

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi, Russia, October 22, 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad had told him he was ready to talk to the Syrian opposition forces, if they are genuinely committed to dialogue and to combating ISIS.

Putin spoke to a forum in the Russian resort of Sochi on Thursday evening, only one day after Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow for talks with the Russian president.

Assad’s visit to Moscow comes as part of Moscow's new role as a central player in the Syrian civil war.

The US condemned the visit, with White House spokesman Eric Schultz telling reporters that "We view the red carpet welcome for Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, at odds with the stated goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria."

Russia started launching air strikes in Syria on September 30, with the initial aim of battling ISIS militancy. However, in time the Russia's intentions in Syria appeared to be to only protect the Bashar al Assad regime.

"I will pull open the curtain a little on my talks with President Assad," Putin said.

"I asked him: 'What view would you take if we found, now in Syria, an armed opposition which nonetheless was ready to oppose and really fight against terrorists, against Islamic State? What would be your view if we were to support their efforts in fighting Islamic State in the same way we are supporting the Syrian army'," Putin said.

"He answered: 'I would view that positively'," Putin said of Assad, "We are now thinking about this and are trying, if it works out, to reach these agreements."

Russia has rejected Western calls for Assad to step down, although many highly influential nations no longer see Assad as a legitimate president, including the US, Turkey and some Arab states.

Putin also dismissed criticism of the Russian intervention in Syria, saying the West suffers from double standards when it comes to dealing with the inflamed situation.

"Let's not play with words and divide the terrorists into moderate and not moderate," Putin said.

"I would like to understand what is the difference. Perhaps, some experts believe that moderate bandits behead people in moderate numbers or in some tender way."

Putin’s comments came hours before the Vienna meeting that brought Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia together in talks over the Syrian conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted that the Assad regime had lost all legitimacy to rule during Friday’s Vienna talks, while Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir on Thursday said that Assad’s removal from power was necessary to defeat ISIS.

Jubeir said Assad’s regime acted as a magnet "that attracted foreign fighters from all over the world” to fight for the terrorist group.

"We discussed the situation in Syria and how to find a peaceful solution for the conflict that guarantees Syria's future and leads to a transitional period that does not include Bashar al Assad," Jubeir said after holding talks with his Austrian counterpart in Vienna.

TRTWorld and agencies