Putin meets Syrian foreign minister for first time
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in his first meeting with a top envoy from Damascus since the old Moscow ally plunged into civil war more than three years ago.
Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hosted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in his first meeting with a top envoy from Damascus since the old Moscow ally plunged into civil war more than three years ago.
But the high-stakes discussion was held behind closed doors and neither side disclosed its details.
"The meeting was devoted to Russian-Syrian relations," the Kremlin said in a two-sentence statement issued after Muallem`s visit to Putin`s Black Sea retreat in Sochi.
Russian news agencies quoted Muallem as saying only that the meeting was "very productive".
Images distributed by Putin`s office showed Muallem also meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Russian officials earlier said they intended to offer Moscow as the venue for a restart of abandoned peace talks between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and various opposition groups.
Two previous rounds of Syria peace negotiations in Geneva in June 2012 and last January ended in failure and no new meetings in Switzerland are currently being planned.
Russian news reports quoted Lavrov as saying after the meeting that no new Geneva talks were possible at this time.
But he fell short of formally offering Moscow as the venue for future contacts.
"If you think that a conference will be announced similar to the one that was held in ... January this year with the participation of 50-odd states, thousands of journalists, bright lights, there won`t be such a conference," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying.
"Considering the conflicts that have built up over recent years, considering the persistent attempts at external interference in the Syrian conflict, it is clear that (preparations for direct negotiations) are far from simple and will need time."
Muallem was quoted earlier this month in Lebanon`s Al-Akhbar newspaper as saying that he would raise the issue of Russia`s stalled shipment of sophisticated S-300 missiles to protect Syrian forces from possible US air strikes.
Russia -- now embroiled in a major diplomatic row with the West over Ukraine -- suspended their delivery in 2013 under pressure from Israel and the United States.
Lavrov was quoted only as saying that "Russia will continue helping Syria protect itself against terrorism."
The multi-sided Syrian conflict has killed more than 195,000 people and forced millions from their homes since it began in early 2011 as an uprising against Assad`s regime.
Syrian rebel leaders have paid a series of brief visits to Moscow that only highlighted stark differences between the two sides.
The fractured opposition is furious at Russia for providing Assad`s forces with weapons and offering diplomatic backing for Syria at the United Nations.
Moscow in turn accuses the rebels of rejecting political dialogue and in some cases engaging in terrorism.
Damascus was an important Middle East ally of Moscow in the Soviet era.
Russia and Iran remain two of the most important and powerful friends of the Assad regime.