Moscow - Syrian President Bashar Assad was asked to come to Russia to get him to agree to potential peace initiatives drafted by Russia, Iran and Turkey as Russia prepares to scale down its military presence in the country's civil war, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
Vladimir Putin hosted his Syrian counterpart in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, ahead of a summit between Russia, Turkey and Iran and a new round of Syria peace talks in Geneva. The meeting was unannounced and the Kremlin did not make it public until Tuesday morning.
Assad has only ventured outside his war-ravaged nation twice since the conflict began - both times to Russia. This week's visit to meet Putin is his second since the crisis began in March 2011 leading to a civil war that has killed some 400 000 and resulted in millions of refugees.
The first was in October 2015, shortly after Russia launched its military campaign in Syria to shore up Assad's forces, which turned the war in favour of Assad.
The meeting in Sochi, which lasted three hours, came ahead of a summit at the same place between the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey. Iran and Russia have been Assad's main backers while Turkey supports the opposition.
Putin had spoken with the leaders of Iran and Turkey to "assure them that Russia will work with Syrian leadership to prepare the groundwork for possible understandings" that could be reached on Wednesday to "make sure" that agreements reached will be "viable," said Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
The Kremlin said Putin would phone President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman to discuss the situation in Syria on Wednesday.
Asked whether Putin and Assad have talked about the Syrian president's future in post-war Syria, Peskov said "possible options for political settlement have been discussed." Faced with pressure from other nations urging Assad to step down, Moscow has insisted that it is up to the Syrian people to vote Assad in or out.
In an another apparent step in laying the groundwork for Wednesday's meeting, military chiefs of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Sochi on Tuesday and agreed to coordinate their efforts in Syria.
Syrian pro-government forces over the weekend defeated the Islamic State group in its last major stronghold in the country, leaving the militants to defend just strips of desert territory and a besieged pocket outside the capital, Damascus
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