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CIA head in Moscow this month, discussed Assad leaving power: RIA

CIA Director John Brennan pauses while speaking at the Overseas Security Advisory Council's (OSAC) 30th annual briefing at the State Department in Washington November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency raised the issue of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaving power when he visited Moscow at the start of March, RIA news agency said on Monday, citing the U.S. Embassy in Russia.

CIA Director John Brennan also discussed the observance of the ceasefire in Syria, the news agency said.

Dean Boyd, the CIA’s chief spokesman, confirmed to Reuters that Brennan had visited Moscow in early March and that Syrian issues were on the agenda. It is unusual for the CIA publicly to discuss its chief’s travels or the subjects of his discussions with foreign officials.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov as saying earlier on Monday that Brennan had meetings at Russia’s Federal Security Service, among other places, and his visit was not linked to the decision by Moscow to begin withdrawing its forces from Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later on Monday that there had been no contacts between Brennan and the Kremlin during the visit.

Brennan’s objective was “to emphasize with Russian officials the importance of Russia and the Assad regime following through on their agreements to implement the cessation of hostilities in Syria,” the CIA said in an emailed statement.

The CIA director reiterated to Russian officials that American support for a “genuine political transition in Syria,” which would involve “Assad’s departure in order to facilitate a transition that reflects the will of the Syrian people,” the statement said.

Reporting by Anton Zverev and Polina Devitt in Moscow and Mark Hosenball in Washington, writing by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Don Durfee and G Crosse