For the first time, Iran has been asked to join international talks about ending Syria’s civil war later this week in Vienna. Russia asked Iran to join the talks, showing the Islamic Republic’s new-found stature since agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers. This will bring Syria’s two closest allies to the table in support of embattled President Bashar Assad. Syrian rebels have however opposed Iran’s participation.
The talks will feature 12 countries, including the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which back Syria’s opposition.
Iran is a crucial ally to Assad. The country provides financial aid and forces it refers to as advisers. However President Obama has said Syria’s conflict cannot be resolved if Assad stays in power. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the countries participating in this week’s meetings must agree on the need for a political “transition away from Assad (that) preserves a united and secular Syria”.
He said ending Syria’s civil war is a key component to US policy to defeat the Islamic State militants who are threatening the entire Middle East. Syria is in its fifth year of a civil war that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced half the population.
If the US and Tehran sit down face-to-face to discuss Syria’s future, it will be their first formal negotiations since reaching the nuclear accord in July.
Iran will be represented by their Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the talks. Iranian diplomats may also meet with their US counterparts in separate meetings to discuss implementing the nuclear agreement.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the Vienna talks are “an opportunity to test the seriousness of Russia and Iran in reaching a political solution”. He said Assad must step down “within a specific time frame”.
Kerry agreed saying, “We agree on the right of the Syrian people to choose a leadership through free and transparent elections. Surely we can find a place where one man does not stand in the way”.