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Assad in surprise Sochi visit as Russia continues Iran-Israel mediation

Following a meeting between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi, Putin's comments that "foreign armed forces" will withdraw from Syria have left those involved guessing what it means.
Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia May 17, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC1158F50280

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi May 17. The brief visit comes amid escalations between Iran and Israel in Syria as well as further gains by the Syrian army in opposition-held areas.

As Al-Monitor reported on May 10, following the May 9 visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow, “a high-level visitor or two from Syria or Iran” had been expected in Russia “rather soon.” On May 14, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Three days later, Assad, accompanied by his defense minister, Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, arrived in Sochi. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Lavrov were both present at the meeting with Putin.

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