Syrian President Bashar al-Assad left his country for the first time in four years to meet with RussianPresident Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders discussed Russia’s militaryparticipation in Syria. Three weeks ago, Russia beganaerial attacks in Syria.
Russia and Syria say they are attacking Islamic State, or ISIS terrorists. But some Western nations, includingthe U.S., say they are attacking Syrians who opposeMr. Assad.
Mr. Assad has not publicly traveled abroad since 2011. That year, Syrian security forces cracked down onpeaceful protests in Syria. The violence has spiraledinto civil war, and 240,000 people have died.
The Russian government called Tuesday’s meeting inMoscow a “working visit.” During the meeting, Mr.Assad said he was grateful to Mr. Putin for Russia’shelp. The Syrian president said without Russia’sassistance, “terrorism” would have spread to moreareas.
The Syrian government routinely refers to rebel fightersas “terrorists.” During the three-week campaign,Russia has been criticized by the United States for targeting rebels. The U.S.noted that Russian air strikes should be focused on Islamic State militants.
The talks came on the same day that Russia and the U.S. signed amemorandum of understanding (MOU). This memo states how Russian and U.S. aircraft will maintain safe distances over Syrian skies.
The agreement covers all types of aircraft over Syria – including drones.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the Russians requested that the fullmemo not be shared with the public. Mr. Cook said the U.S. will continue withits own strategy in Syria. The U.S.-led coalition has attacked ISIS militantsmore than 2,600 times in the past 13 months.
Syrian ground troops have advanced into central and northern parts of thecountry, according to the Associated Press. Some villages have been taken, but the war continues.
By late Wednesday, a Syrian official confirmed that Mr. Assad returned toDamascus. It is believed that the Assad-Putin meeting was their first meetingin eight years.