#Iran to take a seat among world powers for #Syria peace talks
London ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) — Iran has accepted an invitation to join talks with the United States and Russia this week on a possible political resolution to the Syrian civil war, state news media reported on Wednesday.
The talks would be Secretary of State John Kerry’s first formal negotiations with Tehran on issues beyond the nuclear accord reached in July.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, discussed the talks, which will be held in Vienna, in phone conversations on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, the semiofficial ISNA agency quoted a spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Marziyeh Afkham, as saying.
Russia has urged the inclusion of Iran, the only other major power giving military support to President Bashar al-Assad, and top American officials have recently acknowledged that no serious discussion of a possible political succession plan in Syria could occur unless Tehran were involved.
It is “hard to imagine a solution to the Syrian crisis without Iran,” France24 quoted Antony J. Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, who was in Paris in preparation for Friday’s talks, as saying.
Mr. Kerry leaves for Vienna on Wednesday.
The United States position — denunciation of Iran’s support for Mr. Assad’s forces and for terrorist groups like Hezbollah — has until now precluded United States support for Iran’s participation in the talks. Along with Russia and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are participating in this week’s talks.
The change in the American position was signaled on Tuesday in a State Department news conference in Washington.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, had ruled out bilateral negotiations with the United States after the nuclear accord, which he tepidly endorsed.
“It’s very important because it shows that, following the nuclear agreement, Iran is now ready to cooperate on crisis management in the Middle East,” Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator who now teaches at Princeton, said in a phone interview. “I’m not surprised, because the leader had said that if the deal were done fairly, with face-saving for all parties, Iran would agree to next steps on other issues. This is a big step forward.”
Mr. Mousavian added: “There are, practically speaking, two coalitions: one established in 2011 by the United States, with its allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the other coalition, established recently, by Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.” A resolution of the Syria crisis is impossible, he said, unless “all major regional powers and international powers agree to sit down together.”
The last round of talks in Vienna ended last Friday without a resolution, although Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov emphasized common ground: their shared fight against the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups, and a desire to keep Syria as unified and for Syrians to decide the future of their country.
While Mr. Zarif played a central rule in negotiating Iran’s nuclear deal with the United States and five other world powers, the extent of his influence over Iran’s policy on Syria is less clear.
Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, is believed to have a considerable role in shaping Iran’s involvement in the four-year-old civil war in Syria.
ISNA reported that three deputy foreign ministers — Hossein Amirabdollahian, Abbas Araghchi and Majid Takht Ravanchi — would accompany Mr. Zarif on his trip to Vienna.