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November 14, 2013 AT 7:26 AM
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the conflict in Syria with President Bashar al-Assad by telephone on Nov. 14, praising his government's readiness to attend peace talks and destroy chemical arms, the Kremlin said. The Kremlin's description of the first call reported between the leaders for many months appeared intended to portray Assad as taking a constructive approach to ending the bloodshed and to underline Moscow's potential role as an interlocutor. Putin also urged Assad's government to do all it can to alleviate the suffering of civilians and voiced concern over what he called persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by extremists in Syria, apparently blaming this on Islamist militants fighting Assad's government.