Syrian President Bashar al-Assad left his country for the first time in four years to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders discussed Russia’s military participation in Syria. Three weeks ago, Russia began aerial attacks in Syria.
Russia and Syria say they are attacking Islamic State, or ISIS terrorists. But some Western nations, including the U.S., say they are attacking Syrians who oppose Mr. Assad.
Mr. Assad has not publicly traveled abroad since 2011. That year, Syrian security forces cracked down on peaceful protests in Syria. The violence has spiraled into civil war, and 240,000 people have died.
The Russian government called Tuesday’s meeting in Moscow a “working visit.” During the meeting, Mr. Assad said he was grateful to Mr. Putin for Russia’s help. The Syrian president said without Russia’s assistance, “terrorism” would have spread to more areas.
The Syrian government routinely refers to rebel fighters as “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 a memorandum 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 full memo not be shared with the public. Mr. Cook said the U.S. will continue with its own strategy in Syria. The U.S.-led coalition has attacked ISIS militants more than 2,600 times in the past 13 months.
Syrian ground troops have advanced into central and northern parts of the country, 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 to Damascus. It is believed that the Assad-Putin meeting was their first meeting in eight years.
I'm Mario Ritter.
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Carla Babb and Chris Hannas reported this story for VOANews.com. Jim Dresbach adapted the story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
Words in This Story
spiral – v. to get worse in a continuous and usually fast and uncontrolled way
memorandum – n. an informal written record of an agreement
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