Assad assures Putin over ceasefire

2016-02-24 18:04
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP)

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Moscow - Syrian President Bashar Assad assured Russia's Vladimir Putin of his readiness to respect a ceasefire agreement as the Kremlin strongman on Wednesday launched a diplomatic offensive to get the deal off the ground.

Apart from securing Assad's pledge to support the truce deal brokered by Moscow and Washington, Putin also held phone talks with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.

"Very intense contacts are under way," Putin's spokesperson Peskov told reporters.

Amid the diplomatic blitz a senior Assad political adviser, Busseina Shaaban, has arrived in Moscow, a spokesperson for Vitaly Naumkin, a Russian academic who has taken part in talks on the Syrian crisis, told AFP.

The Kremlin said that Assad "confirmed the readiness of the Syrian government to facilitate the establishment of a ceasefire".

Assad noted that the proposals were an "important step in the direction of a political settlement", Moscow said.

The ceasefire agreement, which does not apply to jihadists like the Islamic State group (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front, calls for a "cessation of hostilities" between regime forces and opposition groups from midnight Friday Damascus time (22:00 GMT).

Putin and Assad "stressed the importance of continuing an uncompromising fight" against ISIS, Al-Nusra Front and "other terrorist groups included in the relevant UN Security Council list", Moscow said.

Putin also discussed Syria with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Iran's Hassan Rouhani and also held phone talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

"The Saudi king welcomed the concluded agreements and expressed his readiness to work together with Russia to implement them," the Kremlin said.

Riyad said for its part that King Salman told Putin that "ceasefire efforts must include guarantees to ensure the delivery of humanitarian and medical aid to all Syrian regions, without any exceptions", the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Putin, whose air force has been conducting a bombing campaign to support Assad's troops on the ground since late September, on Monday pledged to do "whatever is necessary" to get Damascus to uphold the deal after sealing the agreement with US President Barack Obama.

But some US officials have expressed doubt over whether Russia will respect the ceasefire.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Washington was considering a "Plan B" over Syria if Damascus and Moscow do not keep their end of the bargain.

Plan B 'premature' 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday took a jab at the naysayers as Moscow said it was not aware of any "plan B" and warned Washington not to jeopardise the deal.

"Literally on the day when the presidents of Russia and the United States approved a joint initiative on a cessation of hostilities in Syria, voices calling into question the viability of this agreement began to be heard in capitals of US allies and Washington itself," Lavrov said.

"We would like to say openly that a desire for and call to war and not peace can be heard in these voices," state news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

The Kremlin spokesperson for his part insisted it was "premature" to speak of any other plans.

"We are fully and completely focused on the task defined by the two presidents," said Peskov.

"The most pressing task right now is to achieve a ceasefire when it comes to the groups who support the initiative of the two presidents."

Read more on:    isis  |  russia  |  syria

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