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Putin jokes to Assad he should host Trump; Syrian leader says he’s in game

In a lighthearted exchange, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently suggested to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he invite US President Donald Trump to visit him in Damascus. The Syrian leader signaled he was prepared to go ahead with the idea.

In video that emerged of banter between the two leaders during Putin’s visit last week to Syria, the Russian leader is heard saying he would pass on the message to Trump.

The footage was aired Sunday by the Russian-1 channel and showed a conversation between Putin and Assad as they visited the Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Damascus.

Assad mentioned the New Testament story of Paul the Apostle, who became a Christian after experiencing a miracle as he traveled to Damascus where he planned to arrest disciples of Jesus. According to Christian lore, the incident happened on the road where the church is located.

“If Trump arrives along this road, everything will become normal with him too,” Assad jokes to a smiling Putin, according to a translation by the Axios website.

Putin responds that Trump would be keen to visit and if he wasn’t, he’d convince the American leader to come.

“Invite him. He will come,” Putin says in the video. After Assad responds he is prepared to host Trump, Putin says, “I will tell him.”

Putin’s unannounced visit was his second to the country during its ongoing civil war, where Russian troops have been fighting alongside Syrian government forces since 2015. It came amid a crushing Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria.

In addition, tensions between the US and Iran, an ally of Syria and Russia, have skyrocketed after the US killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Iraq, saying he was planning attacks on American interests. Iran responded with a missile attack on two US bases, also in Iraq, causing no injuries.

Header: Russian President Vladimir Putin, third right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, center, visiting an Orthodox cathedral for Christmas, in Damascus, Syria, January 7, 2020. (Syrian Presidency via AP)