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Published On: Tue, Nov 21st, 2017

Syria’s Assad met Putin and Russian military leaders in Sochi

nsnbc : Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. Putin also introduced Assad to senior officials of the Russian Defense Ministry and the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. The meetings came ahead of a new round of Russian, Turkish and Iranian sponsored talks on Syria in the Kazakh capital Astana on Wednesday.

Al Assad_Putin_Soci_Russia_Nov 2017Putin welcomed Assad congratulating him on Syria’s results in combating 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. Putin continued:

“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.”

Al-Assad, for his part, thanked Putin for having the opportunity to meet him, two years and some weeks after Russia launched what Assad described as a very successful operation. He continued:

“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. … Thank you very much”.

Putin followed up on Assad who had mentioned the Astana talks. Putin said that he also thinks that they are “quite a success”. Putin noted that thanks to the Astana talks the parties had managed to create de-escalation zones, which allowed for the first time real and in depth dialog with the opposition. Putin explained what he planned to do to follow up on his meeting with Assad, saying:

“Based on the outcome of this meeting, 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 US President Donald Trump. After that, I am speaking with the leaders of the countries in the region. … As you know, the so-called Riyadh opposition group will hold a meeting in Riyadh on November 22–23. Our representative, Mr Lavrentyev, will attend the opening and closing of this meeting, as well as a news conference, as a special presidential envoy. Therefore, I believe that our meeting today is a very good opportunity to coordinate our approaches on all settlement issues. I am glad that we can do this”.

Assad confirmed that the Syrian government at this stage – especially after its victories over the terrorists – is interested in the political process. He added:

“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, for his part, followed up on Assad stressing that terrorism is a global problem and that the fight against terrorism is far from over. He concluded “I believe that the main task now is to launch the political process. I am glad that you are ready to work with anyone who wants peace and conflict resolution”.

Social Constructionism and Terrorism

Putin did not go into details about one of the main problems with establishing a true international front against terrorism – the fact that a designation as a terrorist organization is – more often than not – based on political expediency and utilitarianism as well as on social constructionism instead of an evaluation of whether not a given organization systematically and consistently uses acts of terrorism.

Astana talks have to some degree helped weeding out Al-Qaeda affiliates from the de-escalation program, thus bolstering the designation of Jabhat al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda affiliates as terrorist organizations. However, there is still a noticeable lack of consensus. The Russian and Syrian position with regards to the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units flies in the face of fellow Astana guarantor Turkey. Ankara considers the YPG as terrorist organization allied and on par with Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The United States, for its part, designates the Lebanese Hezbollah, a Syrian and Russian ally in Syria, as a terrorist organization. Kurds label some of the Turkmen militia backed by Turkey as terrorists while Ankara designates them as “opposition”. . . . It is this positioning and posturing that according to many analysts makes it extremely difficult to start a genuine political process or to expand the military disengagement.

CH/L – nsnbc 21.11.2017

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