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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin and Assad Talk Middle East Peace

Itar-TassPutin meeting on Tuesday with Syria's Assad at the Kremlin. Assad insisted that arms sales were not discussed.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, meeting Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, welcomed Russian efforts to play a bigger role in the Middle East.

"Our strategic dialogue with Russia is based on Russia playing a more effective role in the Middle East," Assad said at a news conference after meeting behind closed doors with Putin. "Russia has begun playing a real role in the region."

Assad plans to be in Russia for three days.

Fighting between Palestinian factions and the political crisis in Lebanon topped the agenda at the Assad-Putin meeting; Russian officials declined to comment on the talk. Russia has weighed in on both the Palestinian quagmire and Lebanon as it has sought to reassert its regional presence.

Assad, speaking at the news conference at the President Hotel, called the meeting "successful and constructive" but declined to offer any details.

Putin, for his part, noted that he had recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Last week, Siniora told reporters in Moscow that Lebanon rejected Syrian efforts to manage its weaker neighbor. Syria, a longtime ally of Russia, has backed the Hezbollah opposition in Lebanon's south and has been accused of involvement in last February's assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

"We are seeing one conflict in the region developing after another, and that can only concern us," Putin said at the news conference. He added that there would definitely be discussion about the worsening situation in Iraq, where U.S. forces are seeking to prevent the outbreak of a full-fledged civil war.

Asked about Lebanon, Assad said only that Syria's position was to do "everything that will result in consensus."

Russia believes that the solution to a long-term peace in Lebanon must come from the Lebanese people and that neighboring countries can only play a stabilizing role, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Assad said the key to avoiding future violent clashes between Palestine's Hamas and Fatah factions was the formation of a national consensus government.

The Foreign Ministry sought to grant Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist, some international credibility when it invited the group's leaders to Moscow in March, shortly after Hamas gained control of the Palestinian parliament.

Assad said Tuesday that arms trade between Russia and Syria was not discussed at the meeting. Syria has for years bought Russian arms. In early 2005, Moscow sold Damascus an anti-aircraft missile system, angering Israel and the United States.

"When we discuss bilateral relations, we discuss everything, but we don't get into details," Assad said. "Then, the specialists discuss this or that aspect separately."

Assad's comments notwithstanding, there had been considerable speculation in the media that Assad had come to Moscow with an eye toward buying new weapons.

Kommersant reported Tuesday that Damascus was considering MiG-29 fighter jets, Amur-1650 submarines and Pantsir-S1 air-defense missile systems.

Assad further dismissed reports that Syria leaked Russian-made arms to Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon during last summer's war with Israel.

Asked if Putin should stay in power after his term ends in 2008 -- as Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak recently suggested -- Assad said "that depends upon the wishes of the Russian people."