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Putin: too early to discuss asylum for Syria's Assad

Putin has said it is too early to discuss Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down. Until a new constitution and elections are held in the war-torn country, Russia would continue to back the regime, he said.

Russia will continue to support Assad until Syria is stabilized and a new constitution drawn up and elections held,

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview

with the German daily "Bild" on Tuesday.

"Once the stabilization of the country has progressed, a constitutional reform has to follow, and then early presidential elections. Only the Syrian people can decide who should govern the country in the future," Putin said.

Putin said it was premature to discuss granting asylum to Assad, but suggested it was possible.

"It was surely more difficult to grant Mr. Snowden asylum in Russia than it would be in the case of Assad," Putin said, referring to Edward Snowden, the US intelligence whistleblower who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013. "But first the Syrian population has to be able to vote, and then we will see if Assad would have to leave his country if he loses the election."

The future of Assad has been a major stumbling block in kick-starting

peace talks between the Syrian armed and political opposition and representatives of the regime

scheduled to begin in late January.

The UN Security Council on December 18 approved a resolution backing a road map drawn up by world powers in Vienna that envisions a ceasefire, negotiations between the Syrian regime and the opposition, followed by an 18-month period to create a unity government and hold elections.

The road map leaves the future of Assad unresolved, with Russia and Iran saying the Syrian people should decide his role, while the West and rebel-backers Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have maintained that he must go.

Watch video 00:23

Obama: Assad must stand down

However, the opposition has said they would not allow Assad to play a role in any transition, even as the United States appears to have softened its position and is open to Assad playing a short-term role in the interest of maintaining momentum in nascent talks.

The idea that Assad would step down and be granted asylum in Russia has been floated for years as one part of the solution to end the conflict.

Putin, who intervened in Syria in late September in a bid to bolster the regime against rebels and the "Islamic State,"

admitted Assad has not done "everything right" but pinned blame primarily on foreign-backed rebels fighting a legitimate government.

Russia's primary objective in Syria, Putin said, was to support a legitimate government so that Syria does not end up like Iraq or Libya.

Assad's opponents accuse Russia of targeting primarily rebels and not IS.

cw/xx

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