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Putin Hosts Surprise Syrian Talks With Assad In Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, embrace in Sochi on November 20.

After surprise talks in Sochi with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about the need to move from military operations in Syria to the search for a political solution to the country’s six-year civil war.

The meeting between the two allies on November 20 came as the presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran are scheduled to meet in the Russian Black Sea resort on November 22 to discuss rebooting the peace process.

United Nations-sponsored negotiations that look to establish a political solution to the Syrian conflict are due to resume in Geneva on November 28.

Russia and Iran have given crucial military backing to Assad's government throughout the war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters and has killed more than 330,000 people, created 6.1 million refugees, and forced some 5 million people to become internally displaced.

Turkey supports rebels who want to oust the Syrian president.

In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Putin said that “the military operation [in Syria] is really coming to an end."

"I think now the main thing is to move to political processes, and I am pleased to see your readiness to work with everyone willing to establish peace and find solutions," he told Assad.

Putin said that he expects the United Nations to “actively participate in the [political] process, particularly during its final stage."

Expressing thanks for Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, Assad said, “especially since we’ve attained victory over the terrorists, we want the political process to progress.”

The Syrian president refers to the extremist group Islamic State (IS) and most of his other opponents as "terrorists."

“We’re counting on Russia’s support to ensure the nonintervention of outside players in the political process, so that their role is to support the efforts of the Syrians themselves,” he also said.

The Russian president said he intended to talk with U.S. President Donald Trump on November 21.

It was the second time Assad has traveled to Russia to meet with Putin in the course of the war.

The first was in October 2015, shortly after Russia launched its air and ground campaign in Syria to beef up Assad's forces.

On November 19, the Iranian, Russian, and Turkish foreign ministers met in southern Turkey to discuss the war in Syria ahead of the Sochi summit.

The November 22 meeting between Putin and his counterparts in Iran and Turkey -- Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rohani – will focus on reducing violence in Syria and matters related to the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region, officials said.

Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran are sponsoring peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, that focus on battlefield issues, such as the formation of de-escalation zones in key regions of Syria.

On November 21, Iranian President Hassan Rohani declared the end of Islamic State in an address broadcast live on state TV, after the militants were ousted from strongholds in both Syria and Iraq.

Major General Qassem Soleimani, who is commander of foreign operations for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), also declared the end of the extremist group in a message sent to the country’s supreme leader that was published on the IRGC-run Sepah news site.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, TASS, and Interfax