DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A senior Russian official met President Bashar Assad on Wednesday, saying he discussed Moscow's efforts to bring all sides in Syria's civil war to the negotiating table and warning that terrorism poses a threat to everyone.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov arrived in the Syrian capital for a two-day visit, the last leg of a regional tour that has taken him to Turkey for meetings with Syrian opposition leaders as well as Lebanon for talks with senior government officials and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
Bogdanov has said Russia is trying to arrange a meeting between Syria's warring sides without preconditions.
The two discussed how a political solution could be reached "as soon as possible because people are getting killed every day," he told reporters after meeting with Assad.
Asked whether Russia was cooperating with the United States in its efforts to convene talks, Bogdanov said: "If there is a desire among Syrians for the meeting in Moscow, then we will discuss this issue with the Americans."
He added that the priority is fighting terrorism.
"This terrorism poses a threat to everyone," he said.
Russia is Assad's chief political ally in the international arena, and it has protected his government by issuing repeated vetoes at the U.N. Security Council. Russian officials have echoed Assad's claim from the beginning of the Syrian conflict: that he is fighting "terrorists" and extremists, not an uprising by people demanding change.
Bogdanov said he met in Turkey with Hadi Bahra, the head of Syria's Western-backed Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, and asked him to take part in future talks in Moscow. He did not elaborate.
"We believe that there must be a political solution, and we must try," he said.
State-run news agency SANA said Bogdanov conveyed a verbal message from Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he reiterated Russia's continued support for Syria in the face of the "fierce and terrorist" attack.
It quoted Assad as saying that Syria is "positively dealing with the efforts exerted by Russia to find a solution to the crisis."