Russia's President Putin and regime leader Bashar Assad discussed progress in the war on terror in Syria and prospects for a political settlement to the wider conflict.

Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad (L) meets Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia November 20, 2017.
Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad (L) meets Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia November 20, 2017. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with embattled Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad to talk about the need to move from military operations to the search for a political solution to Syria's conflict, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

Russia is actively trying to build 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 favour.

Putin praised Assad for "fighting terrorism," which he predicted would suffer an "inevitable" defeat in Syria, the Kremlin said.

"It is in our interest to advance the political process ... we don't want to look back and we are ready for dialogue with all those who want to come up with a political settlement," Assad said in translated comments.

"We still have a long way to go before we achieve a complete victory over terrorists. But as far as our joint work in fighting terrorism on the territory of Syria is concerned, this military operation is indeed wrapping up," Putin told Assad, in comments broadcast by Russian television.

"Now the most important thing, of course, is to move on to the political questions, and I note with satisfaction your readiness to work with all those who want peace and a solution (to the conflict)," Putin said.

The meeting, according to the Kremlin, happened on Monday evening in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin has a residence. However, the Kremlin did not release information about Assad's visit until Tuesday.

Peace congress

"I would like very much to discuss with you the main principles for organising the political process, and the holding of a congress of the peoples of Syria, that is supported by you," Putin told Assad.

"I would like to hear from you your assessment of the state of affairs today, and the prospects for the developments of the situation, including your view of the political process, which, in our view, must ultimately be carried out under the aegis of the United Nations."

Putin and Assad last met on October 20, 2015, in Moscow, a few weeks after Moscow launched its military operation in Syria, which has beaten back anti-Assad rebels and propped up struggling regime forces.

For Monday's meeting in Sochi, Assad stayed on Russian soil for a total of four hours, RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Assad, wearing a dark suit and sitting across a small coffee table from Putin, told the Russian leader, "At this stage, especially after we achieved victory over terrorists, it is in our interests to move forward with the political process."

"And we believe that the situation we now have on the ground and in the political sense permits us to expect progress in the political process. We count on the support of Russia to ensure the non-interference of outside players in the political process," said Assad.

Underscoring the importance of the Russian military in propping up Assad's rule, Putin presented the Syrian leader to a gathering of his top military command, who were also assembled at his Sochi residence.

"On behalf of the entire Syrian people, I express my gratitude for what you have done," Assad told the roomful of Russian military officers. "We will not forget it."

Army chiefs meet in Sochi

Meanwhile Turkish Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar also met with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Sochi on Tuesday.

The meeting with Russia's Chief of General Staff General Valery Gerasimov and Iranian Major General Mohammad Bagheri came ahead of Wednesday's trilateral summit on Syria.

Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the parties discussed the current situation in Syria and steps to be taken in order to destroy terrorist groups, ensure the security of de-escalation zones, and facilitate transition to a political solution process in the war-torn country.

"The parties agreed to increase coordination in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, and completely eliminate the remaining members of Daesh and Al Nusra terror organisations in Syria," read the statement.

Ankara, Moscow, Tehran

On Wednesday, Putin is to meet the leaders of Iran and Turkey, two other powers with major stakes in the Syrian conflict. He said he would follow up his talks with Assad with phone calls to US President Donald Trump and to Middle Eastern leaders.

Putin will host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani in Sochi ahead of parallel UN-led talks in Geneva set for November 28.

The meeting – the first such three-way summit between the trio – comes as Ankara, Moscow and Tehran cooperate with increasing intensity on ending the over six-year civil war in Syria that has left 330,000 dead and millions homeless.

"The open-war phase in the Syria conflict will soon be over and the question of a political solution will become more pressing than before," Russian political analyst Azhdar Kurtov said.

"Russia, Iran and Turkey each have their own interest in Syria. It is clear that they also have disagreements. And they are meeting to try to smooth over these disagreements," he said.

The three countries have backed negotiations in the Kazakh capital Astana that have brought together the representatives of the opposition and the regime seven times this year.

'Relaunch direct negotiations'

The talks have led the creation of four so-called "de-escalation zones" that have produced a drop in violence, but sporadic fighting and bombardment has continued.

Moscow is now seeking to steer the process, which has so far focused on military questions, in a political direction.

The Sochi summit will help to "relaunch direct negotiations between the Syrian government and the range of the opposition," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"As a victory over Daesh in Syria ... grows closer, there are conditions for the relaunch of political negotiations," he said on Friday.

This week regime forces ousted Daesh group from its last urban stronghold in the country, Abu Kamal, which has changed hands several times.  

Assad's fate

Previous attempts to end the war have stalled over the question of the fate of Assad.

But Turkey is showing greater flexibility on that issue, even if it remains unlikely that it will officially accept the prospect of the Syrian regime leader remaining in power, said Timur Akhmetov, an Ankara-based Turkey expert at the Russian International Affairs Council.

"For now, to keep a say in the future political negotiations is more important for Turkey than to have Assad departed from power," he added.

The last attempt by Moscow to bring together the regime and the opposition in Russia was cold shouldered by the rebels and no date has been fixed for a meeting which was originally set for November 18.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies