Iran invited to participate in Syria talks for the first time

The U.S. and its allies have invited Iran to participate in international talks over Syria’s future, potentially indicating a shift in its strategy related to the Iranian nuclear program. The next talks are planned for Thursday in Vienna where Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergei Lavrov and top European and Arab diplomats are expected to attend. Iran’s inclusion marks its recognition as a significant actor in the Syrian conflict and is expected to please Iran’s ally, president Bashar al-Assad. However, its backing of Assad’s regime and growing ~military presence in Syria, could place the United States in a precarious position.

The decision to invite Iran to participate has been reported as a consequence of international fatigue over repeated failed attempts at international mediation. Iran has not confirmed its attendance, but its stake in the Syrian conflict is considerable given its status as Assad’s strongest regional ally, despite its supreme leader ruling out new negotiations with the United States after a nuclear agreement. Russia’s entry into Syria and its growing importance in the country are likely central to Iran’s participation and continued involvement in international discussion. Iran’s formal position supports a political solution of the Syrian crisis. The U.S. idea that Assad can participate in the “political transition” process but has to leave power at the end is rejected by Russia and Iran, but more strongly by Iran who stresses Assad’s role in the fight against terrorism and national unity. Other topics of division include the duration of the transition period, the nature of the  new constitution and future elections in the country.

Saudi Arabia has been the most determined to block Iran from participating in the meeting fearing its growing influence. Riyadh has blocked previous UN-led efforts to engage Iran in the talks. The invite will also alarm Saudi Arabia’s Gulf allies, Israel as well as Syrian opposition groups, who condemn “Iranian occupation” of their country.

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