STATE DEPARTMENT —
The U.S. State Department says Iran is expected to be invited to key meetings about Syria’s political future that will take place in Vienna this week.
During the meetings on Thursday and Friday, the U.S. and other world powers will focus on solutions to what State Department spokesman John Kirby described as a “difficult political situation” in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. delegation.
Attendance by Iran could mark a shift for the U.S. and other Western powers that have sought to limit engagement with Tehran on issues beyond the Iran nuclear deal reached in July.
However, Kirby stopped short of describing Iran as a key U.S. partner in the Syrian crisis.
“We do not certainly by any means approve of the destabilizing activities that they [Iran] continue to pursue in Syria,” said Kirby.
However, he added that the U.S. has recognized that “at some point in the discussion on moving toward a political transition (in Syria), we have to have a conversation and dialogue with Iran.”
Kirby declined to say who extended the invitation to Iran or whether Tehran will attend.
Differing Viewpoints on Syria’s Crisis
Iran, like Russia, has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It also has provided support to Syria’s military.
On the other hand, the U.S. and its allies have backed the moderate Syrian opposition.
Also, the U.S. has repeatedly voiced support for a political transition in Syria that leads to a government that is not led by President Assad.
There were fresh signs Tuesday that the U.S. and Iran have not bridged gaps concerning their views on Syria. The state-run IRNA news agency said a foreign ministry spokeswoman urged the U.S. to stop “supporting the policy of nurturing terrorists.” The Syrian government and Russia have referred to the moderate Syrian opposition as “terrorists.”
Iran’s position is more closely aligned with that of Russia’s, a country that recently stepped up its military operations in Syria.
U.S. officials say that while U.S.-led coalition air strikes have targeted the Islamic State, the vast majority of Russian strikes have targeted the moderate Syrian opposition.
Russia’s Tass news agency said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif discussed ways to settle the Syrian crisis on Tuesday.
The news agency said the foreign ministers spoke by phone on the issue with a “focus on urgent steps towards establishing an intra-Syrian political dialogue.”
Stepped up Diplomatic Activity on Syria
There has been a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days on Syria’s unrest.
On Tuesday, France hosted talks on the Syria conflict with representatives of the United States, Europe, Jordan and Turkey, but without Syria's allies Russia and Iran, according to the French foreign ministry.
The meeting was expected to focus on the fight against Islamic State, the protection of civilians and the proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution that France plans to put forth next week.
The resolution is aimed at stopping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces from using barrel bombs against his Syrian population. Barrel bombs are steel drums full of shrapnel and explosives dropped from the air.
The meeting featured mainly lower ranking officials, with the United States sending Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Syria was a focal point for Kerry last week as he traveled to Europe and the Middle East. His trip included talks in Vienna.
In Berlin, Kerry discussed Syria with foreign ministers, including Lavrov. After the meeting, Lavrov said Moscow wanted Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.
Speaking on Russian state television, he said the Kremlin was intensifying its effort to “covert its increased clout with Damascus into a political settlement.”
Syria Talks Part of Broader Trip
Vienna is the first stop of a trip for Kerry that also will include stops in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Samarkand, Uzbekistan; Astana, Kazakhstan; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; and Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
The State Department said it will be Kerry’s first visit to the Central Asian republics.