MOSCOW – President Bashar al-Assad of Syria paid a surprise visit to Russia on Thursday. President Vladimir V. Putin said Russia expects "foreign forces" to withdraw from Syria as soon as a peace process started. [196592002EvaluationoftheleastlyteamsMrPutinhasbeenusedinRussiaIstriaeUnitedStatesandothernationshaveintoPlanwhichincludesparticipationinthisretreatmentpartofanSolutionoftheLongGovernmentofLandessein
Both Iran and the Russian forces are fighting on the side of Assad in Syria. If Mr. Putin pointed to the Iranian military presence in Syria, which this month expanded into an exchange of hostilities with Israel, his comment might point to a Russian role that prevented Iran from establishing itself there.
The news agency also paraphrased Putin's message, albeit slightly differently, saying, "Over time, the meeting Putin announced to Assad that he counted on the withdrawal of foreign forces from the territory of Syria."
Am late Thursday, the Kremlin had not published a complete transcript containing the mention of foreign troops.
Russia is the only major power with significant ties to its main regional counterparts: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Israel. For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Putin in Moscow on 9 May.
Mr. Assad met with Mr. Putin at the Black Sea Resort Sochi. Although the meeting took place during the day, according to a video recording, the Russian state television broadcast the news of the visit only late Thursday, for reasons that were unclear.
Mr. Assad thanked Russia for its military assistance, and described efforts to find a political solution that included an amendment to the Syrian constitution
. Putin congratulated the Syrian leader on clearing the area around Damascus, which he called terrorist forces. However, he did not mention the Western allegations that Mr Assad used chemical weapons. The Syrian army had managed to "push them back and virtually put an end to their operations near the Syrian capital."