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Iran's Zarif In Damascus Ahead Of Syria Talks

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Damascus on April 16.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has visited Damascus ahead of a new round of talks next week in Kazakhstan toward ending Syria's eight-year war.

Zarif and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on April 16 discussed "the next round of Astana talks and the importance of lasting communication between Damascus and Tehran for continued cooperation", the Syrian presidency said in a statement.

Iran and Russia are key allies of Assad, and along with rebel backer Turkey have sponsored the so-called Astana negotiations track to put an end to the conflict in Syria.

Kazakhstan is to host a fresh round of negotiations on April 25-26 in its capital, recently renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan.

Iran and Russia have given Assad crucial military backing throughout the Syrian war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011. Turkey and the United States back different rebel groups.

Russia helped turn the tide of the conflict in Assad's favor when it launched a campaign of air strikes on his opponents and stepped up its military presence on the ground in Syria in 2015.

But Syrian rebel groups and militant outfits still control parts of northwestern and southwestern Syria, while a Kurdish-led alliance backed by the United States holds most of the northeast.

Washington and its allies have blamed Russia for allowing Assad's forces to continue fighting in a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

In Damascus, Zarif and Assad accused Western countries of "launching wars and economic terrorism against anyone who did not agree with them" in regional matters, according to the presidency.

Both Iran and Syria are facing Western sanctions, with the United States earlier this month designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

Zarif and Assad accused Western countries of "launching wars and economic terrorism against anyone who did not agree with them" in regional matters, the Syrian presidency said.

The Iranian foreign minister also held talks with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, in Damascus.

After meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Damascus, Zarif said that Iran, Russia, and Turkey will be focusing in Kazakhstan on the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, pro-government newspaper Al-Watan reported.

The region bordering Turkey is held by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Iranian foreign minister is expected to visit Turkey after his trip to the Syrian capital.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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