Washington has decried the 'red-carpet' treatment given to President Assad by the Kremlin. Despite its ire, the US planned to send Secretary of State Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart for talks on the Syrian crisis.
The White House expressed disdain over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's surprise visit to Moscow late on Wednesday. The strong response from Washington came just hours after the Kremlin announced US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would meet on Friday.
"We view the red-carpet welcome for Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, at odds with the state goal by the Russians for a political transition in Syria," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
Assad's meeting with Putin on Tuesday, thought to be the embattled leader's first trip abroad since civil war broke out in his country in 2011, was convened to discuss the joint military campaign against insurgents like "Islamic State" (IS) operating within Syria. According to the Kremlin, Assad expressed his gratitude to Putin for Russian military support for his troops.
Syrian regime buoyed by foreign help
Assad's trip gave rise to intense speculation over how emboldened the Syrian president has become in the wake of Russian airstrikes against his enemies, which began in late September, followed shortly by ground support from Iran.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the four-year conflict have not yet lost steam, however. Friday's meeting of top-level diplomats was attended not only by Kerry and Lavrov, but also by regional powers Turkey and Saudi Arabia - whose governments are staunch Assad critics.
Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who supports moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad, said of the president's Moscow visit: "If only he could stay in Moscow longer, to give the people of Syria some relief. In fact, he should stay there so the transition can begin."
es/rc (AP, dpa)