The presidents of Russia and Syria have held talks at the Kremlin amid controversy over a reported weapons sale between their nations.

Russia's Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad of Syria signed bilateral agreements at Tuesday's meeting.

Russia also agreed to write-off about $10 billion of Syria's more than $13 billion debt to Moscow.

The leaders stressed the importance of building strong relations. Mr. al-Assad also said he would welcome an increased Russian role in the Middle East.

Earlier, the Syrian leader told university students his country has the right to purchase anti-aircraft missiles for defense.

Reports have said Russia planned to sell shoulder-fired SA-18 missiles and larger Iskander-E missiles to Syria - prompting protests from Israel.

The Iskander-E would be capable of hitting most of Israel. The Israelis fear the SA-18 could fall into the hands of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Some information for this story provided by AP and AFP.