Putin Meets Assad and Briefs Trump
History is being written in Sochi, where Russian President Vladimir Putin held an unannounced meeting with Syrian President Bashar al Assad on Nov. 20 and then introduced him to the Russian military leadership who "helped save Syria." Tuesday Putin briefed President Donald Trump about his discussions with Assad. Tomorrow, Nov. 22, Putin will chair the Astana Talks with the other two guarantor countries, Iran and Turkey, and will consult with Assad during the course of the talks. Putin yesterday also spoke by phone with the Emir of Qatar.
The focus of the Putin-Assad exchange was that the victory against ISIS was the start of a political process to bring peace and reconiciliation to Syria. The Kremlin posted long excerpts of the exchanges between the two leaders, which give a sense of the historical importance of the talks. Excerpts of those exchanges follow:
Putin began: "Welcome to Sochi. First, let me congratulate you on Syria's results in combatting terrorist groups as well as on the fact that the Syrian people, despite a very difficult ordeal, are gradually moving towards the final and inevitable defeat of the terrorists.
"Mr. President, as you know, I will meet with my colleagues — the Presidents of Turkey and Iran — here in Sochi the day after tomorrow. We have agreed to hold additional consultations with you during our meeting. Of course, the main subject on the agenda is a peaceful and lasting political settlement in Syria after the routing of the terrorists.
"As you know, in addition to the partners I have mentioned we are also working closely together with other countries, such as Iraq, the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. We maintain constant contact with these partners.
"I would like to talk with you about the basic principles of the political process and the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, the idea of which you have supported. I would like to hear your opinions on the current situation and development prospects and your views on the political process, which should ultimately be implemented under the UN auspices. We also hope that the UN will join the [political] process at its final stage."
Assad replied, acknowledging Russia's role in helping Syria win the war against terror. "Over this period, we have achieved major success both on the battlefield and on the political track. Many regions in Syria have been liberated from the terrorists, and the Syrians who had to flee from these regions can now return there.
"It should be acknowledged that the operation brought progress to the political settlement in Syria. And the process which was started and which Russia promoted with various efforts continues, above all, based on respect for the UN Charter, the state's sovereignty and independence. This stance has been defended at various international platforms, including the talks in Astana. The same goes for the plans to hold the Syrian National Dialogue Conference in a few days. Today we have an excellent opportunity to discuss both the upcoming conference and the upcoming summit, and to coordinate our views on the next steps.
"First, I would like to take an opportunity and pass congratulations and gratitude from the Syrian people to you, Mr. President, for our joint success in defending Syria's territorial integrity and independence. We would like to extend our gratitude to those institutions of the Russian state that provided assistance — primarily, the Russian Defense Ministry that has supported us throughout this operation. Also I would like to pass our gratitude to the Russian people who remain a friendly nation to us. They have supported us all along."
Putin responded by remarking that thanks to the Astana talks, de-escalation zones could be built and preconditions for the political process were laid. "Based on the outcome of this meeting [with Assad], I will consult further with the leaders of the countries I just mentioned. A conversation with the Emir of Qatar is scheduled for today. Tomorrow, I am speaking with U.S. President Donald Trump. After that, I am speaking with the leaders of the countries in the region."
Assad responded: "At this stage, and especially after our victories over the terrorists, we are interested in promoting the political process. We believe that the political situation that has developed in the regions offers an opportunity for progress in the political process. We hope Russia will support us by ensuring the external players' non-interference in the political process, so that they will only support the process waged by the Syrians themselves. We do not want to look back. We will accept and talk with anyone who is really interested in a political settlement."
Putin said he is "glad that you are ready to work with anyone who wants peace and conflict resolution."