Assad's priority to defeat 'terrorism' before elections


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's priority is to defeat "terrorists" before holding elections but he is ready to call parliamentary and presidential polls if necessary, a Russian lawmaker who met him on Sunday said.

The remarks are a first indication of Assad's response to a call by his Russian allies for new presidential and parliamentary elections, as Moscow uses its clout with Damascus to try to end almost five years of conflict in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has launched air strikes against Assad's opponents in Syria, called for the elections in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

Moscow said Lavrov discussed Syria with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry twice at the weekend, and spoke to his Iranian and Egyptian counterparts on Saturday. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in Cairo that international talks had yielded some progress though more consultations were needed.

Assad's opponents, however, are wary of Russia's motives, suspecting it of trying to prop up Assad and look after its own national interests in the Middle East as its warplanes support offensives against rebels on the ground.

Assad visited Moscow last week on his first known trip outside Syria since the start of the conflict, which is estimated to have killed 250,000 people.

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