The White House condemned Russia’s “red carpet welcome” for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Moscow on Wednesday, saying that the visit was counter-productive to a political transition in the country.
Assad arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to meet with his most powerful foreign ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in what was his first foreign visit since the onset of the Syrian civil war in March 2011. The Syrian leader also met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The ministers discussed closer political cooperation and Russia’s airstrike campaign in Syria against ISIS and what the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called other militant groups earlier this month. The U.S. has said Russian airstrikes have on occasion targeted CIA-trained rebels.
Putin said that Moscow was “ready to make a contribution not only to fighting against terrorism, but also in the political process.” However, the U.S. issued a statement criticising Russia’s warm welcome for the Syrian leader.
“We view the red carpet welcome for Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, at odds with the stated goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday,Reuters reported.
In a press conference during his visit, which was broadcast on Russian state television, Assad thanked Russia for its support in the civil war and said that it had prevented “terrorism” becoming “more widespread and harmful” in the country, Russian media reported.
“Political steps taken by the Russian Federation since the start of the crisis prevented the situation in Syria from developing into a tragic scenario,” Assad said.
A U.S. State Department official told the BBC on condition of anonymity that Washington was not surprised by Assad’s visit but there were concerns that Russia’s support for the Syrian leader would only serve to lengthen the conflict, not shorten it.
Assad, back in Damascus, is due to meet a delegation of Russian politicians alongside his head of parliament Jihad Al-Lahham.
More than 240,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war in four and a half years, according to the U.K.-based monitoring group The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, displacing more than seven million people within Syria and forcing millions more to flee the country.