Russia’s Vladimir Putin won the backing of Turkey and Iran on Wednesday to host a Syrian peace congress, taking the central role in a major diplomatic push to finally end a civil war all but won by Moscow’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad.  Syrian opposition groups, meeting in Saudi Arabia to seek a unified position ahead of peace talks, decided to stick to their demand that Assad leave power, Al Arabiya television reported, following speculation they might soften their stance after their hardline leader quit.

Two days after being visited by Assad in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, President Putin hosted his counterparts Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani there. In a joint statement, the three leaders called on the Syrian government and moderate opposition to “participate constructively” in the planned congress, to be held in the same city on a date they did not specify. “The congress will look at the key questions on Syria’s national agenda,” Putin told reporters at the summit, sitting alongside Rouhani and Erdogan. READ MORE